Researchers witness spawning of male and female pillar coral for the first time in Florida

08/21/12 Olivia Kabat
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On a recent dive near Key Largo, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation researchers witnessed a rare species of coral in the process of reproduction. This discovery marked the first documented sighting of male and female pillar coral spawning in the state of Florida.

Pillar coral are listed as threatened within the state of Florida. Kate Lunz, Associate Research Scientist for the Corals Program at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute says this finding confirms the presence of male and female pillar coral in Florida.

“Essentially people before haven’t gone out to specifically watch for this. They’ve been looking for other species and just happened to out of the corner of their eye see this pillar coral spawning. Because we had only observations of males spawning we weren’t sure if there were females at all that exist. So seeing females spawning in the same area with males is a good sign because it means the population in Florida is potentially capable of sexually reproducing.”

Lunz says many threats negatively impact pillar coral colonies and now pillar corals are a candidate species to be listed as federally threatened.

“The threats that face them are pollution coming into the waters, water temperatures rising with global climate change, and ocean acidification can wear down coral skeletons and just sort of poor conditions in Florida can inhibit baby corals from settling if they can’t find the right substrate to settle on.”

According to Lunz researchers are actively taking advantage of conservation opportunities to protect pillar corals and restore their population.

“There are actually some funding opportunities coming down the line from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that are going to enable us to start monitoring the corals that we have just to check on them to see what the health status is. We are also going to be able to look at the genetic diversity of the population with the ultimate goal of rearing them in coral nurseries and eventually out planting highly genetically diverse populations to sort of help the population recede itself.”

Lunz and other scientists plan to search for more pillar coral spawning in the coming weeks. But this new discovery offers hope for the threatened species.

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