Coral Reef Conservation

SECORE Coral Conservation

By November 13, 2019 No Comments

Since 2016, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada has been working closely with SECORE International in an effort to preserve coral reefs around the world.
Due to Global Warming, corals have been dying off around the world at an alarming rate. Warming of the seas, pollution and careless fishing practices have put every coral species at risk. However, through SECORE, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is changing the fate of our reefs and is working hard to restore these vital communities.

Every year, SECORE International hosts a workshop for aquarium professionals around the world, to aid in reef restoration during mass spawning events. Based on sea temperatures and the lunar cycle, scientists can predict when corals will spawn in the wild. During these predictable events, the researchers and aquarium volunteers go out in the field in the middle of the night and look for spawning coral.
Coral release ‘gamete bundles’ (bundles containing both egg and sperm) into the water which are then collected by scientists. The work is just beginning there however! Once collected, these bundles are brought back into the laboratory where fertilization occurs. To ensure success and genetic diversity, bundles from different colonies are mixed together into very fancy pieces of equipment- gravy boats. Much like oil on water, buoyant fertilized eggs will float to the surface of water, while dirty waste water remains below. Gravy boats let us remove/clean this water without disturbing the fertilized eggs.

After ~1hr fertilization is complete; a coral embryo has been produced! At this point, embryos can be observed under a microscope and development monitored. In order to ensure these embryos stay happy and healthy, the hundreds of thousands embryos are very carefully placed in different containers containing filtered seawater. Corals are divided into tanks, tubs, ‘pools’ in the ocean and even takeout containers! This careful, painstaking process often means very late nights in the lab. For several days we are often up until 3am ensuring these coral babies have the best chance at life.

Over the next several days the embryos develop into larvae which begin swimming around looking for somewhere to settle. SECORE has experimented with several different types of substrate in order to find the perfect one that coral larvae love. If we’re lucky the corals will approve, will start settling and slowly turn into a polyp with a skeleton! Once a skeleton starts to form these coral are ready to be outplanted on a reef, starting the reef restoration process.

Once on the reef, corals are regularly monitored for survivorship and growth rates. Eventually the hope is for these babies to grow into colonies that begin sexually reproducing themselves, completing the life cycle.

So far SECORE has successfully reared critically endangered or threatened species of coral, including Acropora palmata, Acropora cervicornis, Colpophyllia natans, Diploria labyrinthiformis and more.

The fate of reefs around the world relies on the dedicated work of these scientists and Ripley’s Aquarium is proud to contribute to research and work that SECORE is doing. If you’re interested in learning more about SECORE please visit http://www.secore.org/site/home.html

SECORE Coral Conservation

Coral embryos divided into a takeout container

SECORE Coral Conservation

Gravy boat containing fertilized eggs and ‘dirty waste water’

SECORE Coral Conservation

Late night work in the lab: Fertilizing eggs, cleaning/removing water and separating embryos into different containers.

SECORE Coral Conservation

Coral embryos ~1hr post-fertilization

SECORE Coral Conservation

Orbicella faveolata ‘gamete bundles’ about to be released

*Photo courtesy of Olivia Williamson, PhD student at the University of Miami*

SECORE Coral Conservation

Two coral larvae that developed into polyps, settled on substrate and acquired algae Symbionts- Two weeks post-fertilization. Ready to be planted out on the reef!

*Photo courtesy of Olivia Williamson, PhD student at the University of Miami*

AuthorMelanie

Melanie has been working as an Aquarist at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada since 2015. She received a degree in Marine Biology in 2012 and has been pursuing her passion ever since. She lives her dream daily by caring for the animals at the Aquarium and aiding in conservation work around the globe

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