By Rich Ross
Swimming through a coral spawn is a peak experience if you are a coral nut like me. I know some find the idea swimming through clouds of coral sperm and eggs to be super icky, but to me, it’s a dream come true. I have been watching film of this phenomenon since I was a wide-eyed little kid, wishing I would get the chance to see it first hand, but figured it would never happen. I was wrong. I experienced coral sex in the wild for the first time while in the field in the Philippines collecting corals for the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences. I will never forget swimming along in the dark with Matt Wandell and Bart Shepherd, seeing some stuff in the water, the three of us realizing what was happening, and then screaming at each other under water. A peak experience for sure for that wide-eyed little kid. Since then, I have been fortunate to work on coral sexual reproduction in a more rigorous way through the my work, and an ongoing program run by the Florida Aquarium, Conservation Of Reef Life, or CORL.
Rick Klobuchar monitors coral sperm and egg bundles filling up a collection container. Photo by Rich Ross.
For the past 8 years aquarium biologists from multiple institutions have been trekking to Tavernier in the Florida Keys every August to work on the sexual reproduction and restoration of the endangered Staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis. This years event was filled with worry, excitement, boredom and joy – the best fieldwork is like that, and below, I will go into detail about each emotion. The program was started after Ryan Czaja of the Florida Aquarium attended a SECORE workshop (SExual COral REproduction – a fantastic organization). Ryan brought what he learned back to Florida, and partnered with the Coral Restoration Foundation to do a Florida based workshop. When the program started it consisted of just a few people doing all the work which was incredibly fun, exciting and exhausting. This year the project grew to just under 50 people from 15 different organizations (including Seaworld and the Georgia Aquarium) doing everything from collection, fertilization trials, development trials, settlement trials to cryo preservation of coral sperm. More »
Tenting a Staghorn Coral Acropora cervicornis
All Photos included here courtesy Richard Ross
California Academy of Sciences
The Octo Mom pales in comparison to the Florida Keys Coral Spawn
An event that happens just once a year yet results in hundreds of thousands of babies. Imagine have just one such happening to produce all the offspring you could ever want! That’s the annual spawning of Elkhorn, Staghorn and other corals off the Florida Keys.
For just a short period of time each year, by a phase of the moon, thirty thousand coral colonies or more are synced-up and driven to reproduce. This happens in August or September, usually just a few days after a full moon.
Now that type of baby making is enough to stir the envy of any mom, Octo or otherwise! Granted, there’s not the same type of physical interaction mammals have, making babies in the animal world. There’s no dating or marriage, nor ongoing obligations. More »
From Advanced Aquarist blog
A team from California Academy of Sciences’ Steinhart Aquarium (including Advanced Aquarist writers/biologists Richard Ross and Matt Wandell) is currently at work in the Philippines. Thus far, they’ve managed to observe (and capture on video) many corals spawning. Today, Richard Ross posted their latest video of a Cespitularia soft coral spawning event taking place right now.
Biologists from Steinhart Aquarium collect coral gametes
On May 8, Richard Ross announced in Advanced Aquarist that Steinhart biologists were heading out into the field for “the most comprehensive scientific survey effort ever conducted in the Philippines.”
On their very first day of their expedition, Steinhart aquarists chance upon an Acropora spawning event and reported back two wonderful videos from their night dive (read Matt Wandell’s blog to watch the videos and to learn more about the SECORE (SExual COral REproduction) gamete-collecting initiative).
We now get word the team has produced yet another video, this time of soft coral spawning. The video shows biologists collecting soft coral gametes. These gametes will be carefully held until they are fertilized and ready to settle in captivity. Watch the video below.
We eagerly await reports from the Steinhart team when they return. Great work, guys!