A brutal disease is ravaging Florida’s reefs, and in response scientists studying the disease are teaming up with institutions and the public in a massive coordinated effort to stem the spread of stony coral tissue loss disease and restoring damaged reefs in the future.
“When you go to some of these areas where the disease has been prevalent for a few years, it’s like looking at the moon sometimes. You can swim and swim and swim and not see a single living coral,” says Karen Neely, a coral ecologist at Nova Southeastern University.
In addition to applying treatments to affected reefs near Miami, ecologist and professor at Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography Brian Walker, Ph.D., and his collaborators are collecting the spawn of corals that have survived the disease to help propagate a new generation for restoration. Corals spawn once a year. To catch them in the act, Walker and colleagues go out to the reef at night and wait underwater until corals release their bundles of eggs and sperm, which they collect with a net and mix in a bucket to allow fertilized gametes to form. From these, researchers can lab-rear corals to plant back on the reef someday. “It’s a huge amount of effort for such a small amount of coral, relatively speaking,” says Walker. “But it’s a start to save their genetic diversity before perhaps this disease continues its course.”
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