APOLLO BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Aquarium announced on Wednesday it is the first organization in history to successfully spawn Atlantic coral species in a laboratory.
Aquarium biologists were able to induce spawning in endangered pillar coral in a technique known as “Project Coral.” The spawn occurred on Saturday.
It is believed the aquarium’s breakthrough could help save corals in the Florida Reef Tract from extinction.
“There are a lot of folks in the coral world that said ‘this cannot be done.’ And our team proved it. Extremely, extremely proud of our coral experts and our team,” said aquarium President and CEO Roger Germann.
Senior Coral Scientist Keri O’Neil and her team worked hard for eight months to control and program lights to mimic things like sun and moon rises in the wild, things that trigger corals to spawn once a year around this time.
“This is not just a scientific breakthrough, this is hope for a species that’s critically endangered in Florida. And this is actually hope for many species along the Florida Reef Tract,” O’Neil said.
“Florida’s coral reefs are in a pretty dire situation right now being affected by so many different stressors and now a major disease outbreak on top of everything. And to be honest, a lot of corals are now being pulled out of the ocean for a genetic archive project so we can keep them on land to weather the storm, essentially. But just keeping them on land is not how you’re going to save the reef.”
O’Neil said this gives her team the opportunity to create “tens of thousands of corals” to restore Florida’s reefs.
If the aquarium’s success continues, O’Neil said they will monitor the reef tract for disease before placing these precious laboratory corals into the wild.
Project Coral is a collaborative research and conservation initiative started by Horiman Museum and Gardens in London.
Pacific species of corals were successfully spawned there in late 2017.