Coral reefs are extremely important because they are an incubator of the ocean’s ecosystem and help generate as much as half of the oxygen on the planet. Somehow, they manage to provide food and shelter to over one-quarter of all marine species in the ocean even though they account for less than 1% of the ocean. The marine life they support ultimately feeds over one billion people.
Unfortunately, the rise in temperature, brought about by global warming and climate change, has caused a process called ‘bleaching’ to take effect which has killed off two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia already. The largest living structure of coral in the world is now over 50% dead.
But, there may still be hope for our oceans, all thanks to one scientist’s clumsy moment in a coral tank. Dr. David Vaughan of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida has found a way to make coral grow 40 times faster than coral currently does in the wild. He calls the process “micro-fragmenting”.
The Good News Network describes his accidental breakthrough:
“He had been trying to remove a coral from the bottom of a tank when it broke into a dozen pieces. To his shock, all of the pieces regrew to the same size in just three short weeks, as opposed to the three years it had taken to grow the original coral.”
It typically takes coral 25 to 75 years to reach sexual maturity but with this new coral fragmentation method, it takes only 3 years. The process of ‘breaking up’ the coral has shrunken the timeline of coral growth by an unbelievable amount. He enthusiastically shared his discovery with conservationists, hopeful that it could be the answer to the bleaching problem plaguing the Great Barrier Reef. Here’s what they had to say about it:
“At worst, the method led by Vaughan is something that will buy conservationists more time; At best, this is the beginning of a solution.”
A former intern of Vaughn’s commented on Reddit, indicating that Vaughan “has been essentially adjusting the coral frag[ments] to more acidic and warm water to better prepare them for our changing climate.”
Vaughan said to BBC One:
“This is now a new discovery that can give real hope for our coral reefs that has never been there before. We tried [this process] with all the other species of corals in the Florida Keys and it works for them all.”
Coral expert Bill Causey told The New York Times in 2014:
“This [the work being done by Vaughan] is easily the most promising restoration project that I am aware of.”
Scientists and conservationists plan to plant 100,000 pieces of coral around the Florida Reef Tract by 2019 and millions more around the world in the years to come. (You can read about one volunteer’s experience assisting with growing and planting coral in Florida with Vaughan here.) Recovery of the world’s oceans is right around the corner. The method is so efficient, the researchers are reportedly producing coral faster than they can get tanks to hold them. That’s a very good sign, to say the least.