Scientists try to regrow a dying coral reef 25 times faster than nature (audio, video & text)

The world’s coral reefs are in perilous danger due to overfishing, pollution and climate change. But a team of scuba-diving scientists has developed a groundbreaking method for speeding up coral growth in hopes of stemming the underwater crisis. Hari Sreenivasan reports from the Florida Keys. (…)

HARI SREENIVASAN: Half a mile off the Florida Keys, a small boat of scientists is confronting a vast underwater crisis. Biologists David Vaughan, Christopher Page, and Rudiger Bieler are attempting lifesaving transplants for Florida’s coral reefs, which are dying at alarming rates. (…)

BILL CAUSEY: There’s a global crisis right now occurring with coral reefs and their decline. Our corals are already at the very edge of their existence. Coral reefs provide the structure, the home and the food for all the reef fish that are important both commercially and recreationally. (…)

DAVID VAUGHAN: Most of these corals, the size of a good boulder, the size of a small car, would be 500 to 1,000 years old. But now, since we have lost 25 to 40 percent of the world’s corals, we can’t wait 100 years.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In fact, Vaughan and his team aren’t waiting. They discovered that, when cut into small strips, the slow-growing living corals quickly try to heal themselves. (…)

HARI SREENIVASAN: But the question remains, will these new corals, subject to same ocean stressors as their predecessors, survive in the wild? For that, the team is recreating current ocean conditions.

DAVID VAUGHAN: We change the pH in each tank and we look to see which ones are going to tolerate those conditions.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, essentially predicting, kind of creating the future environment here for you?

DAVID VAUGHAN: That’s right, seeing which ones will be the winners and which ones will be the losers, so we’re always using the winners.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So you basically are assuming that ocean acidification continues at this rate, this is what the ocean will be like, so if you can figure out which ones survive, put those in the ocean?

DAVID VAUGHAN: Absolutely. You are right on target. That’s exactly what we’re doing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: While it may not be the solution to saving the world’s coral reefs, NOAA Director Bill Causey says it is buying time.

BILL CAUSEY: And giving us time for our reefs to hang on as long as they can just by having stock that we can eventually put back out there, but it’s going to take our global leaders to address climate change. And we have to have the time for those actions to take place.

Hari Sreenivasan, PBS Newshour, 3 February 205. Audio, video & text (excerpts).

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