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The Book of Life for coral reefs

As the world falls under the threat of the damage of marine life, scientists are working hard to preserve it. Years of nature and human-made disasters have ruined a lot of the coral reefs and climate change is making things even worse. Therefore, the researcher  Mary Hagedorn along with her team are pioneering new techniques to preserve living coral sperm and larvae. 

Importance of coral reefs

Even though they only occupy 0.2% of the global seabed, almost 25% of all marine life lives on a coral reef. Thus, with their destruction, many marine creatures will cease to exist. The natural order of life’s circle as well as the ocean’s ecosystem will be disrupted greatly.  Also, many kinds of fish choose coral reefs as a place to lay their eggs.

Moreover, these reefs provide a natural barrier against natural disasters. As they take the energy’s waves and impact, coral reefs protect the coastline along with the near infrastructure from tsunamis and storms. Also, many countries such as Tuvalu and the Marshall would be destroyed without this protective fringe.

Furthermore, More than 275 million people around the world live within 10 kilometers of coastline. More than half of this population, directly and indirectly, reap the benefits of coral reefs. Economy and tourism in many countries are very dependent on such reefs. They are also considered one of the most valued ecosystems around since coral reefs are estimated to be worth US$100 000 – 600 000 per km². 

On the other hand, perhaps one of the most important roles of coral reefs is aiding green algae in the process of producing oxygen. Not only are algae most abundant in coral reefs but it also produces up to 50% of the world’s oxygen.

Using science to fill the coral reef’s book of life

In an attempt to save coral reefs, a senior research scientist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Mary Hagedorn and her team are adapting and researching human fertility techniques such as cryopreservation. 

For the last 16 years, scientists were trying to mimic the cryopreservation process which allowed preserving human embryos and eggs in other fields. They want to use such techniques to preserve coral sperm and larvae as a solution to the current reefs problem and in case they might need to reseed the ocean in the unknown future. 

Once they freeze them in nitrogen-filled large thermos-like containers, the material can survive for hundreds of years. Thus, the team is now collecting and preserving many genetically diverse and biodiversity samples of natural coral reefs. Hence, in a way, the team is collecting the coral reefs’ book of life. 

The scientific  process 

Ultimately, corals are very complicated animals with a very fragile skeleton. They are also a single polyp, thus one skeleton can host thousands of corals. Furthermore, there are many different kinds of species with different sized coral animals along the global seabed. On the other hand, corals have a relatively restricted reproduction cycle which makes the study process even harder. They usually spawn or breed for just a couple of days a year.

Thus, the team benefited from The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology location. It not only allowed them to have easy access to the coral reefs but also gave them almost three months worth of research time for various species that spawn there.

Furthermore, the team was successful in its attempt to freeze coral sperm. They also build the needed equipment for the process. However, they still need to figure out how to freeze the coral eggs. Since the science behind freezing the eggs is still relatively new and unknown, the team is trying out several complicated and sophisticated methods to freeze and warm the eggs.

Moreover, they used the previously frozen assets to prove the success of the restoration. They used the de-frozen sperm to create a new coral that was created by crossing a sperm from one geographical region with eggs from another area. This study also further proved the concept of assisted gene flow. We now can move genes from corals that are thriving and partner them with corals that are not doing as well. 

Though humanity is the reason behind our world’s environment collapse, scientists, researchers, and the environment workers are doing their best to ensure its survival. This new study provides us with the means to save our coral reefs along with a safety net in case things took a turn to the worse.

References:

Biorock. (2019, December 22). Retrieved June 23, 2020, from https://www.globalcoral.org/biorock-coral-reef-marine-habitat-restoration/?gclid=CjwKCAjwrcH3BRApEiwAxjdPTb4kqwRo8hUqE1OC3XXkZ6TcYIjLDXRUMVFtdW5oCBhxwygRwh6TpxoCwHsQAvD_BwECoral Guardian. (2014, January 09). Why are coral reefs so important? Retrieved June 23, 2020, from https://www.coralguardian.org/en/coral-reef-important/Dying Coral Reefs Impact Environment and Economy. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2020, from https://time.com/coral/First Person: Collecting the ‘Book of Life’ for coral reefs | | UN News. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1065642SECORE International: Why coral reefs need our help. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2020, from http://www.secore.org/site/corals/detail/coral-reefs-are-dying.23.html

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