Investing in the future of reefs

Cryogenically Frozen Coral investing in the future of reefs
By Maureen Halsema
Just as seed banks have been developed to protect the future of food, the Global coral repository will collect biopsies of various coral species to protect our oceans’ future.
The Haereticus Environmental Laboratory is a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving environmental restoration efforts through research. Scientists have developed a technology that enables coral propagation from near-microscopic tissue biopsies. These samples can be cultured and grown into adult coral in a process that can spawn millions of offspring from a single sample of genetic material.
Along with the propagation technology, scientists at Haereticus have also developed methods of cryogenically freezing coral samples, preserving them in a living and reproductively viable state. A series of international repositories will store the samples, ensuring the more than 5 000 known coral species are protected. The first repository is at the HaereticusLab in Virginia in the USA and the next is at Oxford University and has been operational since 2012. The hope is that more repositories will be developed around the world in the near future. The collection process is projected to take about 40 years.
Not only do these repositories provide an opportunity to preserve Earth’scoral species, they also allow researchers to investigate the factors contributing to coral decline and to learn how to conserve existing coral populations, propagate archived species and restore impacted reefs. In addition, the repositories create a global inventory of coral species and a forensic database for use in cases where coral is transported across international boundaries. “Therepositories will maintain a DNA fingerprint of every coral species as well as a geographic identity for each specimen,” said Craig Downs, executive director of the Global Coral Repository. “Using DNA fingerprinting technology and specimen
analysis, we should be able to determine a specimen’s origin, aiding in the law enforcement efforts of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and other regulations.”
To be eligible for deposit, the samples must come from healthy coralcolonies which divers can help identify. According to Downs, each region will have a list of visual characteristics divers can use to confirm reef health including coral coverage, species diversity and coral recruitment. “Divers can provide photo documentation and GPS co-ordinates of a candidate ‘healthy’reef, which will significantly contribute to the ultimate goals of the Global Coral Repository.” The collection effort will begin in the Florida Keys.
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