Before Dr. David Vaughan met his staff biologist Christopher Page, coral reefs were disappearing faster than they could be replaced. But thanks to the work of those two scientists, a new method called microfragmenting promises to speed up our ability to produce coral in laboratories at a rate 25 to 50 times their natural growth rate in the wild. Coral reefs are a vital earth ecosystem that house a enormous number of water creatures and provide livings for 120 million people, according to one estimate. So successful efforts to grow coral that can be transplanted onto dying reefs is very good news. The NYT has more:
Other scientists are excited, too. While there are other efforts around the world to grow new coral, “this is easily the most promising restoration project that I am aware of,” said Billy Causey, a coral expert who oversees all federal marine sanctuaries in the Southeastern United States, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Dave and Chris are buying us time,” he added. “This will keep corals out there” until “we can come to understand what is happening to coral on the larger scale.”
Still, even Dr. Vaughan’s cheery optimism has its limits. A quarter of the earth’s corals have disappeared in recent decades, and the Mote scientists say no one can predict what will happen if the oceans continue to warm, pollution and acidification increase, overfishing further decimates species beneficial to coral, and land runoff continues to reduce the amount of life-giving sunlight that reaches the bottom.
So far, Vaughn and Page’s efforts have borne fruit. Out of 150 coral colonies that were produced by their lab and placed in test sites, 134 are thriving a year later. The team is in the midst of its biggest test yet, to revive a dead reef near Key West. According to the NYT, that experiment started badly but is now doing well.
We hope it continues to succeed, given how important this kind of restoration and conservation is to the future of the planet. If we can destroy—and certainly we have contributed to the destruction of coral reefs—we can also create and reverse the processes of destruction we set in place. That we have innovated a way to speed up the growth of coral is just one of the many ways human ingenuity continues to rise to the challenge of preserving the planet, foiling Malthusian prophets of doom.