Corals transplanted by Mote in Florida Keys are forming eggs and sperm

coral transplants
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium staff scientist Dr. Hanna Koch observes outplanted coral at Newfound Harbor, Florida, finding signs of eggs and sperm in the coral. Courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.

Here’s an update (12 Aug. 2020) to this story. The original story is below.

Mote is now saying some of their transplanted corals have spawned in the field. Here’s video they posted to Twitter:

The original story is below:

Corals and coral reefs in Florida and elsewhere face serious threats including climate change, bleaching, ocean acidification and deadly diseases.

Some scientists have tried growing corals in controlled laboratory conditions and then transplanting them onto reefs to help reefs recover.

Now, for the first time in the Caribbean and Florida region, transplanted reef-building corals have formed eggs and sperm.

WMNF interviewed Stephannie Kettle, public relations manager at Mote Marine Laboratory &Aquarium.

SK: What have you found with the corals that your researchers have transplanted?

“It’s really an exciting time. Our outplanted corals, that we planted a few years ago, have basically reached sexual maturity. We’ve actually found gametes inside these corals. So, we found evidence of eggs and sperm.

“This is a first for these types of corals for the massive corals in Florida and the Caribbean.

“It’s a really exciting time for us because it means that these fragments that we’ve out-planted have grown very quickly. They have been able to reach maturity, and are ready to become parents themselves. And, you know, that’s our ultimate goal is that one day, all the corals we’re out-planting can take over the duties of repopulating the reefs, themselves. So, it’s a really exciting time for us.”

SK: Where has this been done?

“This was at Newfound Harbor Reef, which is in the Lower Keys area.”

SK: Why is it so important that you found the gametes? You mentioned this a little bit already, about finding eggs and sperm in these newly transplanted corals. That could help the future population of the reef?

“Really big picture is that everything that we do with out-planting corals, we want to ensure genetic diversity. And so, we do that in the lab. A lot of the times, we’re taking gametes from corals and mixing in the lab to produce new genetic material. But for the corals to be able to sexually produce out on their own, on the reef on their own, is a really, really big step for them to be able to continue to spawn, produce new genetic material, and repopulate the reef with those new genetic materials.”

SK: Is it just one species that this has happened with? Or, tell us what the species are that you’re working with?

coral transplants
Fused fragments of mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata) at Newfound Harbor, previously outplanted by Mote, and now full of eggs and sperm. Courtesy of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.

“The species that we’re talking about as a first in Florida and Caribbean is mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata), which is a reef-building species. So, that’s why it’s also really important. This is a species that’s really important for building up the backbone of the reefs.

“We also have success with sexual reproduction and spawning with both elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) coral. Those are two branching coral species that we work with. But then we also have a variety of other species that we work with that just aren’t spawning out in the water yet.”

SK: Anytime I have an interview about corals, I have to ask about two of the main coral issues in Florida. Especially during the summertime, I want to ask you about how the bleaching is this summer. But, I also want to find out the progress of stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD). How far has it been spreading this year?

“In terms of stony coral tissue loss disease, we’re still seeing mortality. But the disease front, luckily, has not advanced forward. When you look at the map of how the disease has advanced, it, luckily, has not extended past where it was last year, which is really good news for us in terms of the Florida Reef Tract.”

SK: Where is that geographic point?

“Last year, it did extend all the way down to the Key West area. So, it finally reached way down there. And so, luckily, we haven’t seen it really extend much further past that. But it’s still, a very, very deadly contagious disease for our stony corals. So, it’s still something we’re very concerned about it. And we do research with our partners and things about mapping the disease front, and things like that.

“And then, in terms of bleaching, in the summer, with warmer temperatures, bleaching is a possibility. We have seen evidence of bleaching in some areas. It’s not a mass bleaching event, or anything like that at this time. But bleaching is a possibility for corals during the summertime with warmer temperatures.”

SK: Those are my questions. Is there anything else that people should know about your coral research, especially the newly transplanted corals forming gametes in the field?

“This is a really exciting time for us because we’re able to do asexual reproduction and sexual reproduction in the lab, get those out-plants out there, and then in the course of about five years, they’re able to become sexually mature, which is much quicker than they would on their own. So, it’s just a really exciting time for us to see how these science-based restoration efforts are really helping the reef on a very long, very slow road to recovery. But they are techniques that are working. And that is very exciting for us.”

Watch more of this interview:


Listen to the 5:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 5 August 2020:

Listen to the 4:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 5 August 2020:

Listen to the 3:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 5 August 2020:


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