Ocean coral take decades to reproduce, but Mote's lab-grown coral reaches maturity in 5 years

A new discovery could be key to saving coral reefs.

"They're the backbone of our reef, but they are also very threatened," said Dr. Hannah Koch, a Mote postdoctoral research fellow.

Micro-fragmentation has been practiced for years at Mote's Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration in Summerland Key.

"We will take a coral and cut it into smaller pieces and those smaller pieces will begin to grow really quickly," said Dr. Koch.

They're grown in a land nursery and then replanted underwater where corals once thrived. Dr. Koch recently discovered something promising: two types of threatened corals, star coral and branching staghorn coral are pregnant.

"In the water, I was able to see developed mature, eggs and sperm. This was confirmation that this colony is sexually mature," said Dr. Koch.

It's a process that should take decades to happen, but these corals were ready in five years.

"These outplants really are resilient. They’ve survived a global bleaching event, a Category 4 hurricane, and they’ve also survived one of the deadliest outbreaks of coral diseases ever recorded on Florida's coral reef. I hope that they continue to display their resilience and survive and continue to produce more generations of coral babies, but we also hope to see them spawn," said Dr. Koch.

Spawning indicates a new generation of corals could be born, this time outside of the lab.

"That's what we are really hoping for quick recovery, quick restoration, using science-based techniques and those are things that can be applied elsewhere to other species and other regions of the world," said Dr. Koch.

While Mote's work is paying off, humans hold will determine the longterm survival of corals in the ocean.

“When you go snorkeling or diving be aware of where you are anchoring, don’t touch the corals, don’t collect from the reefs, try not to have any chemical exposure and just think of the environment as a place that you respect and admire and you treat it with the care that you would," said Dr. Koch.