While Florida scientist Dr. David Vaughan was clearing coral from the base of a tank, it shattered into dozens of pieces. The distraught expert expected it to take a full three years to regain its former size. However, as he monitored its regeneration, he learned something that might just help to save the ocean’s fragile ecosystems.
Hardly a day goes by when the words “climate emergency” aren’t uttered in some capacity. And anyone who’s been paying close attention for the last few years will know that coral reefs are in crisis. Indeed, the world’s largest living structure, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, is in particularly dire straits; two-thirds of it was declared dead in 2017, lost to bleaching caused by the ocean’s rising water temperature.
Moreover, it cannot be overstated how vital coral reefs are to the ocean. Although they make up less than 1 percent of the marine ecosystem, they nevertheless provide a home and food supply to more than 25 percent of its inhabitants. The fish that benefit from coral reefs provide sustenance for more than a billion people. Their existence, then, is vital.
Conservation and regeneration of coral reefs is crucial, and it’s a topic Dr. Vaughan has studied for many years. When his coral accidentally shattered in 2006, he thought it might be a major setback. But he was amazed to discover that instead the coral renewed in just three weeks instead of the three years the scientist had anticipated.
The process of breaking coral into pieces to encourage its regrowth is called fragmenting and has been known for more than 50 years. However, Dr. Vaughan is attempting to farm coral on a massive scale, cutting the time it takes to mature naturally from 25-75 years to just three. Although the technique is only a temporary solution, it might buy enough time for coral reefs to start thriving again.