Coral Sperm Banks? Really?

By Lissa Mann 11 years ago3 Comments

Sarcophyton sp.

My fellow blogger recently posted this link about the efforts of an Australian team to free coral sperm, egg and embryos as a conservation strategy. I think this kind of conservation strategy is akin to captive breeding programs that seek to breed endangered animals in controlled situations and then release them into the wild. These kinds of programs are attractive to people and to funding sources, I think partly because they are filled with technology and we love technology and I think partly because it makes us feel like we are doing something important. Plus, these kind of projects give the media a chance to use taglines like “coral sperm bank”, and who doesn’t love that imagery.

The thing that bothers me about these kind of program is the cost of doing them. Think about the amount of money that it will cost to pay people to collect embryos, to pay for the materials to properly store them, to pay for the freezers to keep them at the appropriate temperature, to pay for the electricity to run the freezers, to pay for the scientists to monitor the embryos, and to pay to resuscitate them when it becomes necessary to use them. And, after all of that cost, there is no guarantee that the first set of frozen eggs and sperm and embryos will even work. There is almost always a learning curve with these kinds of projects, and the learning curve is costly too.

Instead of spending money on what essentially amounts to a captive breeding program, I wish it were poured into conservation efforts in the here and now. I realize that the country of Australia cannot stop the increase in global temperatures and it can’t stop the increasing ocean acidification – but surely there are conservation measures that can be taken that could work to protect corals reefs now, like using electrical currents to encourage growth in damaged areas.

I guess my ultimate issue with this kind of strategy is that it treats the symptoms but not the problems. We can keep sperm and eggs and embryos for as long as we want, but if the damaging effects to the environment don’t change this is all just a waste of time and money. New corals that are introduced will fall victim to the same things that killed the original populations.


Okay, I’m off my soap box. I now return you to images of beautiful fishes swimming in glass boxes.


 Lissa Mann

  (9 articles)

Lissa Mann is a Real Scientist™; and has been keeping reef aquaria for five years. She enjoys pina coladas and long discussions about evolutionary theory.


  • tosiek says:

    Hi Lissa,

    As much as I do agree with you both with this project and the lack of smart funding thats been going to terrible projects, ect…. I can’t help myself to say “What If?”

    What if a bunch of overfunded coral sperm banks end up discovering the cure for cancer, solve our energy problems, discover dark matter or create world peace? Thats a load of “What If?” huh……What if early explorers just stayed home because it was smarter to focus their funding on local problems than going against the theory that the world was flat?

    Do you want to live your life knowing that you could have cured cancer if you only froze some coral sperm?

    Anyways, I think the bigger question is “what part of the coral do they touch to get the sperm and are there any special magazines or video’s that help?”

  • tosiek says:

    and wow, you can’t edit. Sigh.

  • Lissa Mann says:

    Oh, I would obviously never suggest that we shouldn’t fund scientific projects for exactly the reasons you listed above. My issue is specifically with this kind of conservation method as funds tend to get dumped into these kinds of projects because they are “sexy” rather than the less-than-sexy on the ground environmental conservation work even though ultimately it doesn’t matter how many of these animals are alive if their is no environment for them to live in left. Anyway, I know I’m espousing a less-than-popular viewpoint but what is a blog for if not to spew my opinion all over the internets.

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