Scientists at the Smithsonian Institution and the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa have created the first frozen bank for Hawaiian corals in an attempt to protect them from extinction and to preserve their diversity in Hawaii. Mary Hagedorn, an adjunct faculty member at HIMB and a research scientist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, leads the laboratory at the HIMB research facilities on Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, that is banking the frozen coral cells.
"Because frozen banked cells are viable, the frozen material can be thawed one, 50 or, in theory, even 1,000 years from now to restore a species or population," said Hagedorn. "In fact, some of the frozen sperm samples have already been thawed and used to fertilize coral eggs to produce developing coral larvae."
Coral reefs are living, dynamic ecosystems that provide invaluable services: They act as nursery grounds for marine fish and invertebrates, provide natural storm barriers for coastlines, purify carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and they are potential sources for undiscovered pharmaceuticals.
However, coral reefs are experiencing unprecedented levels of degradation due to human impact. Globally, greenhouse gasses from burning fossil fuels are warming the oceans, making them more acidic and causing corals to stress and bleach. As a result, the corals are more susceptible to emergent diseases. Locally, reefs are affected by pollution and sedimentation from poor land-use practices, nutrient run-off from farms and waste-treatment plants, and destructive practices such as dynamite fishing and trawls.
Unless action is taken now, coral reefs and many of the animals that depend on them may cease to exist within the next 40 years, causing the first global extinction of a worldwide ecosystem during current history.
"This work highlights the importance of basic science and discovery for developing cre
|Contact: Lindsay Renick Mayer|