The Smithsonians National Zoo recently acquired 12,000 new animalsmicroscopic Elkhorn coral larvae harvested by National Zoo scientists in Puerto Ricoas part of an international collaborative program to raise the threatened species. National Zoo scientists hope to one day return the animals, once they are grown, to their wild ocean habitat.
In August, Zoo Reproductive Scientist Dr. Mary Hagedorn and Invertebrates Keeper Mike Henley traveled to Puerto Rico with marine scientists involved with SECORE (SExual COral REproduction) to collect and artificially inseminate coral. Hagedorn is pioneering the cyropreservation (freezing, storing and thawing) of coral sperm and eggs. Working in collaboration with SECORE, she is trying to create a genome resource bank, which will help preserve the genetic diversity of coral.
Hagedorn, Henley and the team captured spawning coral gametes in nets during night dives and transferred them back to their laboratory on the beach for research and artificial inseminationoften working until 3 a.m. Using 75 feet of specially designed flexible PVC piping that could be bent around the coral so as not to harm it, the team created a water-flow system that allowed water from the ocean to continuously flow in and out of the coral larvae enclosure located in the beachfront laboratory. Keeping the water fresh and at a constant temperature is essential for corals that flourish in stable environments.
Conservation of a delicate underwater species is always a challenge, said Hagedorn, We achieved some important milestones this year, including learning more about the larvae rearing process, and we were able to cryopreserve the endangered coral sperm. Given more research, this technique may become instrumental in helping re-establish healthy coral populations in the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, at the Zoos Invertebrates Exhibit, keeper Mike Henley has been coaxing the 12,000 coral larvae to settle in a
|Contact: Sarah Taylor|