On April 6, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission Chairman Robert Spottswood visited biologists and divers from The Florida Aquarium working at the Keys Marine Laboratory as they prepared to release more than 3,000 staghorn coral offspring back into the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Each one of these corals has a unique genetic makeup, originating from 20 different parents, and range in age from eight months to two years old.
The Florida Reef Tract is experiencing a multi-year outbreak of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. While disease outbreaks are not uncommon, this event is unique due to its large geographic range, duration and the number of species affected. Staghorn coral is not affected by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, but the techniques used at The Florida Aquarium to raise young corals from eggs and sperm will be applied in the future to species that are heavily affected by the disease.
“Using corals that were rescued before the disease hit as the parents, we will be able to create a supportive breeding program for disease-affected species where thousands of corals can be produced and re-introduced to the Florida Reef Tract when the time is right,” said Keri O’Neil, Senior Coral Scientist for The Florida Aquarium. “We are working closely with FWC and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service to rescue as many corals as possible, to serve as the parents for future generations of corals once the disease has passed.” A single pair of brain corals can produce thousands of offspring each year, and when reared in the laboratory, survival can be as high as 50%, compared to less than 1% in the wild.
“Innovative partnerships like this are vital to this complicated mission,” Spottswood said. “The hands-on work of these experts is vital to strengthening our coral reefs and ensuring a positive future for this ecosystem.”
“The Florida Aquarium is staunchly committed to working closely with FWC and our many other partners to address the coral crisis in the Florida Keys along the vital Florida Coral Reef Tract,” said Roger Germann, President & CEO of The Florida Aquarium. “We were honored to have FWC Chairman Spottswood join our team of coral experts and divers on the frontlines as part of the largest out-planting of genetically diverse Caribbean staghorn coral in Florida’s history.”