Geo-engineering is the way to go if we want to save coral reefs around the world, suggests a team of scientists who have proposed artificial boosting of the natural spawning cycle of coral reefs.
Scientists have proposed a form of assisted evolution to ensure that coral reefs don’t get wiped out from the face of the Earth. Corals naturally reproduce once a year when a fine balance of water temperature, lunar cycle and other environmental factors prompts them to release thousands of tiny larvae in the water. However, to boost their numbers scientists intend to help the corals evolve such that they reproduce more often than once during a year.
Jamie Craggs, a researcher at the Horniman Museum in London, intends to artificially boost the natural spawning cycle of corals by reproducing specific climatic conditions in the lab.
Researchers at Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation are also helping out with a team bringing “corals from the wild,” as “they know the genetic material they need to work on”. Initially these corals will spawn through their natural cycle, but later scientists will be looking to start to break the natural cycle to have lots more spawning [events].
The new system creates an artificial lighting environment and uses microprocessors to simulate climatic changes, making it a vital conservation tool. Currently, coral restoration relies heavily on a technique known as ‘asexual reproduction,’ which involves breaking up bits of corals, maturing them in the lab, then planting them back on the reef where they’ll reach full development.
While that sounds promising, there’s one problem and that’s lack of diversity. What researchers will be doing in lab will effectively give rise of clones and hence genetic diversity will be at its minimal.
Spawning events, on the other hand, are a form of sexual reproduction — which means they generate a variety of unique genetic blueprints.
Genetic diversity is key to help Florida’s corals withstand bleaching events and disease outbreaks such as the one that is currently wiping out the local Pillar coral. For example, researchers in the Hawaii found that areas most affected by coral bleaching often were the least genetically diverse.