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Existing Coral Archive and Restoration Efforts

To scientist Mary Hagedorn, corals are “the most magnificent creatures on Earth”
—ones she is racing the clock and climate change to protect.
Dr. Hagedorn

Has developed cryopreservation technologies to preserve coral sperm and fertilized eggs and her team has managed to conserve over 30 species worldwide to date. With all 800-plus species of coral threatened by increasingly warming and acidifying waters, the technology potentially allows scientists to continually create a “book of life,” and facilitates the reseeding of coral reefs. As hermaphrodites, corals produce both sperm and eggs—but rarely. In the Great Barrier Reef, for example, there are 400 species of coral, each of them reproducing just two nights a year for a mere 40 minutes each time.

Collecting coral sperm and eggs is a complicated endeavor and one that varies from species to species requiring a global team to work as quickly as possible. The unpredictability of spawning events in nature and the logistical difficulty of gamete collection makes this technique difficult to scale.

Dr. Hagedorn is not the only researcher who has explored cryo-preservation as an option for coral conservation, albeit her efforts have focused specifically on the coral gametes. This focus has limited her ability to capture and preserve more than just a few coral species which have to be stored under expensive and highly specialized conditions. Dr. Craig Downs, in contrast has explored cryo-preservation of coral fragments as an alternative based on the theory of placing the specimens in a state of suspended animation for potential future asomatic propagation.

On a more local level, there are a plethora of active land-based and offshore coral aquaculture farms throughout the world, many local to the reefs from which the corals are collected. Most of these third world facilities are limited to the specific species diversity of their local reef environments and are not privy to some of the more innovative technologies and equipment available. The aquaculture facilities located in developed countries exist almost entirely for commercial purposes and focus only on the more aesthetically pleasing species that dominate the trade. Additionally, they are not able to access the wide variety of threatened species that are simply not available for commercial collection and transportation.

As commendable as these efforts have been, none of them present a viable and realistic option to archive, preserve, and rear the diversity of species needed to create a meaningful “Eco-vault”.

THE CORAL ARK

A Living Coral “Eco-Vault”