How new techniques might help save Florida's reefs

Disease, pollution and bleaching -- which happens when the water is too warm -- are killing off the coral at an alarming rate.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Florida’s coral reefs play an important role in the Florida lifestyle, no doubt.

It houses fish and crustaceans that many Floridians catch and eat. They’re also a great place to snorkel and scuba dive, and they protect our beaches and coastal properties from storms and waves. 

The bad news is disease, pollution and bleaching -- which happens when the water is too warm -- are killing off the coral at an alarming rate.

“There are times when you look around and think wow, there may be generations that never get to experience a coral reef, the state of Florida as we know it may never be the same,” said Keri O’Neil, the Florida Aquarium’s coral nursery manager.

O’Neil and her team at the Coral Nursery are looking save our reefs by growing coral species that are threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and transplanting them on the Florida Reef off the state’s southeastern coast.

“Hopefully, some of them will be that super coral that can withstand everything that’s happening in the ocean,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil recently returned from working with "Project Coral" at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London, where she was learning how to more predictably reproduce multiple species of coral.

In the wild, corals release their eggs and sperm into the water at the same time. This only occurs once a year in certain conditions. Horniman has developed a way to replicate natural spawning conditions in a lab. 

“Using the technology the Horniman Museum has developed, we are able to do this multiple times per year in a laboratory setting, which just means we can learn that much faster and restore the reefs that much faster,” O’Neil explains.

The aquarium's Center for Conservation will now replicate Horniman Museum's spawning systems. They hope to have it completed by April of this year, with the first "fully-induced" spawning event to happen in 2019. 

Which is good news for the reefs and great news for Florida. 

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