Underwater look at the reef
Credit: Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration (Mote Marine Laboratory video screen capture).

A coral reef takes centuries to form.

Vaughan: “Most corals the size of a basketball may be as much as 25 to 100 years old. And ones the size of a small car would be a few hundred years old.”

Researcher David Vaughan of Florida’s Mote Marine Laboratory, says in addition to growing slowly, corals reproduce infrequently. So as oceans warm, many corals are dying faster than they’re being naturally replaced.

About 10 years ago, Vaughn mistakenly broke a coral in his lab. Each tiny fragment regrew quickly. He realized that breaking corals into small pieces could be a new way to help restore coral reefs.

Vaughan: “We can now produce 600 to 1,000 corals a day, and in just a few months they’re ready to plant back to the sea. We can bring back to life a 50 to 100-year-old coral head in just one to two years.”

His group used this technique to grow and plant about 20,000 corals on reefs last year. It gives corals a chance at survival, but it’s not a cure.

Vaughan: “This technique is a good stopgap to keep these coral reefs alive while we solve the bigger problem of climate change and excess CO2.”

Reporting credit: Anna Moritz/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Justyna Bicz is a Climate Connections contributor based in Chicago.