For just one late-summer night each year, the shallow waters off the coast of Puerto Rico fill with the pale-pink spawn of elkhorn corals -- the tiny, round packets of the adult corals' eggs and sperm. This year, Iliana Baums, assistant professor of biology at Penn State, was there to collect the coral spawn as part of a research and education project to grow the newborn juvenile corals for distribution to aquaria and to the wild. "It looks like it's snowing," she said, "except that the egg and sperm packets rise underwater to the surface rather than fall to the ground."
Baums's reason for collecting the spawn is twofold: she hopes to acquire important information about how corals will respond to global warming, and she also is teaching a group of 28 aquarium professionals, as part of an international workshop, how they can participate in the protection of corals.
According to Baums, corals are extremely sensitive to changes in water temperature. "An increase in water temperature of just a couple degrees Celsius results in visible damage to adult corals and their offspring," she said. Referring to a paper published in a July 2008 issue of the journal Science in which the authors report that one-third of all reef-building corals face an elevated risk of extinction from climate change and other factors, Baums said it is imperative that scientists and marine-resource managers begin to think about how to rescue these important animals.
That's why Baums is searching for particular populations of coral that produce offspring that are better able to withstand high water temperatures. Because most coral species are triggered by moonlight to release their egg-sperm packets, Baums will begin her experiment with a nighttime trip to a designated reef off the coast of Puerto Rico. There, she will collect spawn from elkhorn corals, which are protected as a threatened species by the United States Endangered Species Act. In small rearin
|Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy|