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  • Coral reefs are some of the oldest and most fundamental ecosystems on the planet.

  • 25% of all marine life, at some point, lives on a coral reef.

  • They are essential to life on earth.

  • But, there is not a single coral reef that is not under threat.

  • Our goal is to save the biodiversity and genetic diversity of coral reefs around the world.

  • We are the fertility clinic of the ocean.

  • My name is Mary Hagedorn.

  • I'm a senior research scientist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

  • We are on Coconut Island.

  • Which is in the middle of Kane'ohe Bay, on the island of Oahu.

  • It is one of the most beautiful and important coral research centers in the world, because we are surrounded by coral reefs.

  • Coral is the most magnificent animal on earth.

  • I want all of our children, and our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, to see coral reefs, in just the splendor that they are today.

  • The biggest threat to coral reefs is climate change.

  • Like many organisms, ourselves included, we have a range that we can live comfortably in.

  • Coral have the same issues.

  • So, when the coral reaches two degrees above its normal range, it will often bleach.

  • When coral go through this very stressful bleaching event, it's like us going through a major medical event, like a heart attack.

  • At some point in the relatively near future we may have bleaching events almost every year.

  • And, if that happens, reproduction will stop, and the coral will no longer be able to adapt to changing conditions in the oceans.

  • It will be a devastating event.

  • What we do in our laboratory is we are working on saving coral biodiversity and genetic diversity.

  • And, we use cryopreservation to freeze sperm, fertilized eggs, and also small coral fragments.

  • We had to invent the processes and the tools to cryopreserve them.

  • It gives you the power to reseed the oceans in the future.

  • Collecting coral sperm is very difficult.

  • It is one of the most reproductively restricted animals on earth.

  • Some species do it for two nights a year, for 40 minutes each night.

  • People think of the giant panda as being restricted, but they actual have more time for reproduction than a coral reef does.

  • It's really amazing to see coral spawn, because it's like this inverted blizzard.

  • There's just eggs, and sperm, and fish, and it's very, very lively.

  • It's like being at this wild rock concert underwater.

  • It's really an incredible experience.

  • There's a couple ways we can collect sperm.

  • If they're endangered species we have to actually put a net over them.

  • And then, the egg sperm bundles rise in the net and we collect them in a small tube.

  • It's been very, very challenging.

  • And we're a very small group, but we've managed to conserve over 30 species in our banks worldwide.

  • Ready?

  • - Yes. - 'Kay.

  • One of the really important aspects of having a bank is that it be in a secure location.

  • We have a very small bank here.

  • We hold things here and then we move them to a much more secure place, which is the USDA Animal Germplasm Repository in Fort Collins, Colorado.

  • Once Mary has collected and frozen the samples in Hawaii, they are shipped here for long-term storage.

  • We have the world's largest collection of genetic resources in terms of animals, plants, and microbes.

  • This is a very secure facility.

  • It was specially constructed to withstand forces of tornadoes, floods.

  • We have the ability to operate independent of the power grid.

  • The samples that we have are incredibly important.

  • It offers us the opportunity to reestablish populations that may disappear.

  • One of our recent successes was to use frozen coral to create new types of coral.

  • We call it assisted evolution.

  • And, now these babies are growing in Florida.

  • There're many times when you just go, I can't believe we did this.

  • It's a miracle, honestly it's a miracle when things come back to life.

  • It is critical that we do this work now because our biodiversity is shrinking very fast.

  • Coral reefs are the most beautiful ecosystem on our planet.

  • And, we cannnot lose it, it's just not, not on my watch, we cannot lose them.

Coral reefs are some of the oldest and most fundamental ecosystems on the planet.

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B2 US GreatBigStory coral sperm reef biodiversity genetic

Racing to Save Dying Coral Reefs

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    April Lu posted on 2019/05/05
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