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Environment

Mote Scientific 'Breakthrough' Helping To Restore Threatened Coral Species

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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Mountainous star coral is native to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

Massive corals planted in Florida's Coral Reef are ready to become parents in the wild.

Mote Marine Laboratory’s coral reproduction scientist Hanna Koch said the sexual cycle of mountainous star coral has been failing in the wild. The species is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

It can take these corals decades to reach sexual maturity, but through a method pioneered by Mote, they've been able to generate larger corals faster, and reduce the time to sexual maturity to five years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xsgphgb0-JU

"So the observation that we can produce reproductively viable corals of a slow growing species within only handful of years is not only a scientific breakthrough for Mote, or for Florida's coral reef, but for coral restoration science in general,” said Koch.

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Credit Mote Marine Laboratory
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Mote Marine Laboratory

Now that Mote researchers know their method works well, they can start to adapt it for other coral species, she said.

They started by growing coral fragments in the lab.

"Then once they reach a certain size, they are out-planted in the field usually on a degraded reef, or degraded coral head. And we will out-plant replicate pieces of the corals in an array on to a dead skeleton. And those pieces will grow quite quickly and fuse and form larger coral faster,” said Koch.

These corals are also resilient, she said. They were planted in 2015 off of Cook Island near Big Pine Key, and have since survived a coral bleaching event during their first year, Hurricane Irma in 2017, and the 2019 outbreak of stony coral tissue loss disease at this site.

Koch said this research is very important because Florida's coral reefs have been experiencing a number of local and global stressors.

“Within the Caribbean and Western Atlantic, we've seen significant coral cover loss, you know, on the order of 80 percent,” she said.