Check out this video from Richard Ross! Acropora cervicornis larvae – baby Staghorn coral – are swimming around in their petri dish, just 7 days after he and a world-renowned team of scientists collected 25 mL of concentrated eggs from the spawning Acerv at the Coral Restoration Foundation Nursery.
These coral only reproduce once a year, via broadcast spawning of gametes into the water column. Individual Acerv colonies are both male and female (simultaneous hermaphrodites) and release millions of gametes after the full moon in late summer.
In ideal circumstances, the larvae live in and around the plankton near their “parents” for several days before settling in a suitable area and metamorphosing into new colonies. But very few planula live that long, and the majority of Acropra reproduce asexually, as branches of the coral break off and then establish themselves wherever they land. As NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, states, “…this mode of reproduction makes recovery from disease or bleaching episodes (in which entire colonies or even entire stands are killed) very difficult. The large role of asexual reproduction for this species also increases the likelihood that genetic diversity in the remnant populations is very low.”
Since 1980, populations of this coral have declined by up to 98% worldwide. But, as NOAA states, ” This coral exhibits the fastest growth of all known western Atlantic corals, with branches increasing in length by 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) per year. Staghorn coral has been one of the three most important Caribbean corals in terms of its contribution to reef growth and fish habitat.”
Rich was joined by scientists from such world-renowned institutions as the Florida Aquarium, Steinhart (California Academy of Sciences), the Georgia Aquarium, the Coral Restoration Foundation, NOAA, the University of Florida, Sea World, and the Akron Zoo, and their success represents a major step forward in reef conservation and repopulation efforts. I look forward to hearing more about this exciting project!