(p. A6) As they spent days working through a stretch of ocean off the Australian state of Queensland, Dr. Cantin and his colleagues surfaced with sample after sample of living coral that had somehow dodged a recent die-off: hardy survivors, clinging to life in a graveyard.
“We’re trying to find the super corals, the ones that survived the worst heat stress of their lives,” said Dr. Cantin, a researcher with the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville.
The goal is not just to study them, but to find the ones with the best genes, multiply them in tanks on land and ultimately return them to the ocean where they can continue to breed. The hope is to create tougher reefs — to accelerate evolution, essentially — and slowly build an ecosystem capable of surviving global warming and other human-caused environmental assaults.
. . .
Under normal conditions the animals grow and build their reefs only slowly, one of the factors that is stymying the effort to save them. “We can do all this work here, but can we scale it up enough to make an impact?” Ms. Davidson asked.
Researchers in Florida may be closest to answering that question. At the Mote laboratory in Sarasota, a researcher named David Vaughan has perfected a technique in which coral samples are broken into tiny fragments; the polyps grow much faster than normal as they attempt to re-establish a colony.
“It used to take us six years to produce 600 corals,” Dr. Vaughan said in an interview. “Now we can produce 600 corals in an afternoon, and be ready in a few months to plant them.”
. . .
A center in Key Largo, the Coral Restoration Foundation, has had particular success in bringing back two species, elkhorn and staghorn corals, that had been devastated in Florida waters. The state legislature has begun to appropriate small sums as Florida’s scientists dream of reef restoration on a huge scale.
Though the risks remain unclear, the day may come when many of the reefs off Florida and Australia will be ones created by scientific intervention — a human effort, in other words, to repair the damage humans have done.
“We’ve shown that there is hope in all of this,” said Kayla Ripple, manager of the science program at the Coral Restoration Foundation. “People shouldn’t just throw their hands in the air and say there’s nothing we can do.”
For the full story, see:
DAMIEN CAVE and JUSTIN GILLIS. “Building a Reef Tough Enough To Survive a More Perilous Sea.” The New York Times (Sat., September 30, 2017): A6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 20 [sic], 2017, and has the title “Building a Better Coral Reef.”)