News / Industry News & Events / Startup Creating More Resilient Coral To Replace Reefs Wrecked By Climate Change (07/23/18)

Startup Creating More Resilient Coral To Replace Reefs Wrecked By Climate Change

07/23/18

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Coral reefs are on the brink of extinction under a changing climate. So researchers have been working in labs to create more resilient coral that can hopefully survive the warmer ocean waters of the future. Entrepreneurs including a startup called Coral Vita are working alongside scientists on what's been called "assisted evolution."

Coral Vita, based in Washington, D.C., is building on efforts by Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, which has been working for years to plant corals and rebuild a reef near the Looe Key Sanctuary Preservation Area. A formal partnership between Coral Vita and Mote was announced in January.

"Eleven years ago, Mote established an underwater coral nursery where scientists grow colonies of the threatened staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) for replanting on decimated or damaged sections of reef within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Mote explains in a news release. When the colonies reach a suitable size, small fragments nearly 2 inches long (about 5 cm) are snipped off and used to create a new colony similar to the way new plants are grown from cuttings of existing plants. Then these cuttings are mounted on the reef so they can grow and develop into new colonies."

Coral Vita says these methods allow for growing coral at up to 50 times the natural rate, with farmed coral that's able to better withstand changing conditions such as warming and acidifying oceans. They're reportedly creating a global network of land-based coral farms, catering to the hotel and fishing industries.

The startup says most coral farming projects use ocean-based nurseries. Its method of land-based farms has advantages, such as being able to use "breakthrough techniques" that allow for faster growth of a more diverse array of corals (months rather than decades for reef building blocks like Brain or Great Star corals). Coral Vita was founded by Gator Halpern and Sam Teicher, who met at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where they were awarded the university's first-ever Green Innovation Fellowship.

"At Coral Vita, we acknowledge that the best thing to do to protect coral reefs is to stop killing them, the startup says on its website. We strongly urge responsible parties to limit greenhouse gas emissions, reduce pollution and overfishing, and take other meaningful steps to eliminate threats to coral reef health. Yet we also recognize that the pace of degradation, coupled with the lack of sufficient positive action, demands adaptation solutions be implemented as mitigation measures continued to be pursued."

Scientists say they welcome the help.

"We are looking at a potential complete ecosystem loss, which to my knowledge has not happened in human history,"Jessica Levy, the reef restoration program manager at the Key Largo foundation, tells the Los Angeles Times. "I don't think anyone wants to be responsible for that occurring."