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The Need for a Coral Vault Seems More Urgent After Hurricane Irma, Especially With Jose and Katia Bearing Down

Source: Hakai Magazine/Sophie Yeo - September 13, 2017 in Environment

The Need for a Coral Vault Seems More Urgent After Hurricane Irma, Especially With Jose and Katia Bearing Down
Photo: Nick Hobgood/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In a laboratory on a narrow patch of land in the Florida Keys, marine biologists were collecting tiny fragments of living corals and storing them in tanks of seawater.

It was the humble beginning of an ambitious plan by Florida’s Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium to build a bunker to house the genetic material of coral specimens, which could be used to bring back coral reefs from the dead if necessary.

Coral reefs are valuable but fragile, and they face many threats. On top of forces such as the warming and acidification of oceans, natural disasters—those like Hurricane Irma—can reduce a reef to rubble, with violent waves tearing apart the fragile structures. Diseases, oil spills, and degrading water quality also threaten these increasingly stressed ecosystems. Due to these varied forces, some coral species in Florida have already lost more than 97 percent of their populations.

But by collecting genetic samples now, scientists hope to avoid a catastrophe: corals disappearing for good.

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