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Scientists Discover New Ways to Help Coral Survive

A snorkeler swims among healthy Elkhorn corals off Key Largo in the Florida Keys in the early 1980s. The Elkhorn coral is one of the most important corals in the Caribbean. Current populations are struggling to recover from coral disease and bleaching.
A snorkeler swims among healthy Elkhorn corals off Key Largo in the Florida Keys in the early 1980s. The Elkhorn coral is one of the most important corals in the Caribbean. Current populations are struggling to recover from coral disease and bleaching.

An international group of researchers including a biologist from Hawaiʻi discovered a way to genetically diversify coral to help them adapt quickly to climate change.

Scientists used a method called cryopreservation to freeze sperm from elkhorn coral in Puerto Rico and Florida.

They used eggs of the same species of coral living in Curaçao, an island off of the coast of Venezuela.

Although the coral are of the same species, if they are geographically isolated, it can be difficult for them to reproduce with each other.

Mary Hagedorn is a senior scientist at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology and developed the gene flow method in her lab. She explains, "Ecosystems are most robust when they have as much genetic and biodiversity."

"If something happens like a supernatural disaster, whether it’s a hurricane or fire, if you have a lot of genetic diversity and biodiversity, your ecosystem will rebound much faster. If you do not, then it may just go away, or it can take a very long time to come back," Hagedorn tells HPR.

The assisted gene flow has only taken place in a lab setting. Hagedorn’s team hopes to be able to release the genetically diverse coral into a nursery in the ocean.

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