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Mote Marine Lab creates ‘starter’ coral reefs to help restore Florida’s underwater treasure

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Published: Updated:

We are getting a closer look at a scientific breakthrough at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota when it comes to restoring coral reefs.

Coral reefs are vital to our environment and economy, and Stefanie Korol, assistant manager at Looe Key Reef Resort & Dive Center knows just how important coral reefs are.

“We love to share the beauty and excitement,” Korol said. “Without coral reefs, other fish wouldn’t be able to survive or protect themselves.”

Not just for fish, but for us too.

“Without the liveliness of the reef, we wouldn’t have customers coming down here to be able to appreciate it as much as we do,” she explained.

To help restore Florida’s reefs, Mote Marine Lab has been growing coral in a nursery and cementing it to a coral skeleton to grow into a colony.

Dr. Hanna Koch, a post-doctoral research fellow in the Mote Coral Restoration Program, says, “This year I did something a little different by taking a small sample, which we call a core, from that colony, and then looking at that core to look for developing gametes inside.”

Meaning that these corals can reproduce new baby corals.

Dr. Andy Bruckner, a research coordinator at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary added, “What Mote found is by doing this, they were able to recreate a colony that’s about this size, something that would take about 25-30 years to grow within about five years.”

And it takes some resilient coral to withstand the last five years.

Koch said there have been many challenges. “They survived bleaching event in 2015, they survived a Category 4 Hurricane Irma in 2017, and they also survived the deadliest outbreak of stony coral tissue loss disease that’s been recorded on Florida’s coral reef.”

Next week, the Mote Marine Lab will send a field crew out to see if the corals are spawning.