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Florida scientists induce spawning of Atlantic coral in lab for first time

Updated : 2019-08-23 09:24:15

Scientists in Florida have artificially induced reproductive spawning of an endangered Atlantic coral species for the first time in an aquarium setting, a breakthrough they say holds great promise in efforts to restore depleted reefs in the wild. The achievement, announced this week at the Florida Aquarium in Apollo Beach near Tampa, borrowed from lab techniques developed at the London-based Horniman Museum and Gardens and used previously to induce spawning of 18 species of Pacific coral, officials said. Scientists plan to use their newly acquired expertise to breed new coral colonies that can one day repopulate the beleaguered Florida reef system, one of the largest in the world and one decimated by climate change, pollution and disease in recent decades. Inducing corals to release their eggs and sperm in aquarium tanks involves controlling their artificial settings to mimic their natural ocean habitat over the course of a yearlong reproduction cycle. That means carefully regulating water temperature changes from summer to winter, and using special lighting to imitate sunrise, sunset and even lunar cycles that serve as biological cues for the coral in preparing to spawn.

Light illuminates an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus) just a few days before the animals would successfully spawn in an aquarium for the first time at a Florida Aquarium facility in Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Light illuminates an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus) just a few days before the animals would successfully spawn in an aquarium for the first time at a Florida Aquarium facility in Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Light illuminates an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus) just a few days before the animals would successfully spawn in an aquarium for the first time at a Florida Aquarium facility in Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Light illuminates an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus) just a few days before the animals would successfully spawn in an aquarium for the first time at a Florida Aquarium facility in Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Chief coral scientist Keri O'Neill speaks with staff biologist Emily Williams (L) in front of an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus). Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Chief coral scientist Keri O'Neill speaks with staff biologist Emily Williams (L) in front of an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus). Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Chief coral scientist Keri O'Neill speaks with lab personnel near an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus). Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Chief coral scientist Keri O'Neill speaks with lab personnel near an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus). Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Eggs and sperm fill the water column from Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus) as it successfully spawns in an aquarium for the first time at a Florida Aquarium facility in Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 22, 2019. Florida Aquarium/Handout via REUTERS
Eggs and sperm fill the water column from Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus) as it successfully spawns in an aquarium for the first time at a Florida Aquarium facility in Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 22, 2019. Florida Aquarium/Handout via REUTERS
Light illuminates an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus). Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Light illuminates an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus). Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Chief coral scientist Keri O'Neill gestures in front of a tank of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus). Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Chief coral scientist Keri O'Neill gestures in front of a tank of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus). Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Staff biologist Emily Williams cleans an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus). Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Staff biologist Emily Williams cleans an aquarium full of Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus). Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Chief coral scientist Keri O'Neill works to isolate eggs and sperm from Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus) as it successfully spawns in an aquarium for the first time at a Florida Aquarium facility in Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., January 4, 2015. Florida Aquarium/Handout via REUTERS/Files
Chief coral scientist Keri O'Neill works to isolate eggs and sperm from Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus) as it successfully spawns in an aquarium for the first time at a Florida Aquarium facility in Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., January 4, 2015. Florida Aquarium/Handout via REUTERS/Files
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