Saving coral isn’t just about coral. Corals provide food and shelter for thousands of fish and invertebrate species in the Caribbean alone. As a leader in conservation and research, Shedd Aquarium is determined to help restore these crucial populations.
Since 2006, Shedd has partnered with SECORE (SExual COral REproduction), an organization of scientists who are restoring reefs by collecting eggs and sperm from endangered corals in the wild, raising them in open water nurseries and reintroducing them to reefs. Given the many threats reef corals face – pollution, warming waters and damage from destructive fishing practices – reproduction in the wild can be challenging. That’s why Shedd experts worked with SECORE to develop an innovative breeding program that involves fertilizing viable eggs and stabilizing young coral before they are placed on reefs.
For the last three years, Shedd expert Mark Schick has joined the SECORE team on the Caribbean island of Curaçao to collect eggs and sperm from corals and fertilize them at a nearby lab. This process allows the SECORE team to care for the larvae until they’re ready to be returned to their natural habitats. The researchers have focused on restoring two critically endangered corals, elkhorn and staghorn – and thanks to their efforts, new populations of these species are settling, or establishing themselves, on reefs.
SECORE’s work is far from over. Researchers have already applied this first-of-its-kind breeding method to locations in Guam, Singapore, Florida Keys, Belize and Puerto Rico, and they hope to expand the program even further. They also want to improve the method by determining the best time to return young corals to reefs.
Find out more about recent coral restoration efforts on the SECORE website. Be sure to also check out the Ocean Mysteries’ episode about SECORE, airing today, January 25!
—Nadia Hlebowitsh, web team