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.
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 »