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The Horniman Museum and Gardens and The Florida Aquarium team up to advance coral restoration

The Horniman Museum and Gardens has joined forces with The Florida Aquarium, based in Tampa, Florida, to save coral reefs by spawning (reproducing) corals in a lab – a major technique to aid coral restoration, developed by the Horniman Aquarium’s Project Coral researchers.

In 2013, the Horniman became the first organisation globally to predictably induce coral spawning in a fully closed aquarium lab setting. Now, The Florida Aquarium is providing even more expertise to enhance the project, with plans to plant the lab-grown coral fragments to coral reefs along the Florida Reef Tract. Keri O’Neil, The Florida Aquarium’s Coral Nursery Manager, will visit the Horniman this month (11- 17 December 2017) to learn their techniques of growing corals in a lab setting and brainstorm ideas of how to transport future coral fragments to Florida for restoration purposes.

Corals in the wild reproduce by releasing their eggs and sperm into the water at the same time, an event that is increasingly uncertain given the changing climate. This wild spawning event only happens once per year, which has meant opportunities for research have been limited – until now. 

Scott Graves, Director of The Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation, says: ‘Project Coral is “game-changing”, allowing us to spawn corals on site, create multiple spawning events across the year and drastically speed up restoration work to ensure the survival of Florida’s reef.’

Project Coral, led by the Horniman Aquarium with international partners, has been researching broadcast coral reproduction since 2012, replicating natural reef conditions – and the triggers for mass spawning events – in the lab, to predict and induce land-based spawning.

The new partnership with The Florida Aquarium takes the research protocols developed in the Horniman’s lab in Forest Hill, south London, and applies them in the Aquarium’s state-of-the-art coral conservation nursery in Apollo Beach, Florida. 

Jamie Craggs, Aquarium Curator at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, says: ‘Project Coral has made huge strides in creating the protocols to induce coral spawning in lab conditions, and the Horniman’s research will continue to refine the techniques and understand the effects of climate change on coral reproduction. But we need partners to be able to put our research into practice in the field. This partnership with The Florida Aquarium is Project Coral’s first opportunity to make a “real world” change and we look forward to seeing the positive effects our work together will have on Florida’s reefs.’

Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world and support about 25 percent of all marine life. In addition, they are important to the Florida economy as fisheries and a tourist attraction. The Florida Reef has suffered dramatically from bleaching events that occur when ocean temperatures rise, as well as pollution and other human-related environmental causes.

Corals bred at The Florida Aquarium using Project Coral techniques – all from species listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act – will be transplanted into the ocean to restore the Florida Reef off the state’s south eastern coast.