17 clever ways scientists are trying to protect coral

Using IVF to grow coral for scientists around the world to study

In an effort to help save the world’s coral reefs scientists have reproduced coral using in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) for the first time in the United Kingdom.

Gravid corals (already carrying eggs) were extracted by divers from the Great Barrier Reef and flown to London last year. They were then maintained in an artificial reef at the Horniman Museum allowing them to spawn. The scientists then carried out eight cross-fertilisations in order to create thousands of coral “babies” which can now be used by the museum and other institutions to learn more about reproduction and the early life stages of coral.

Jamie Craggs, aquarium curator at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, said: "We've seen captive corals spawn before at the Horniman, but this is the first time we've been able to successfully cross-fertilise them. This proves the techniques and equipment used in our lab are working, and is a key step forward for Project Coral."

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Using assisted evolution to create “super coral”

Rising temperatures are considered to be one of the biggest threats to the world's oceans as the increased heat causes coral bleaching (pictured above). To counter this scientists in Hawaii are trying to create a “super coral”, which is capable of resisting higher temperatures.

A research team from Hawaii has been collecting the little remaining healthy coral off the coast of Hawaii's Coconut Island to use in a breeding programme to develop strong genes. The coral samples they collect are slowly exposed to slightly warmer and more acidic water. "We've given them experiences that we think are going to raise their ability to survive stress," explained Ruth Gates, director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

The researchers are also developing stronger and more resilient strains by cross-breeding the most resilient coral samples. The corals will then be transplanted back into the bay with the hope that they will survive the changing conditions and be able to reproduce next summer.

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Cross breeding to pass on heat-tolerant genes

Scientists in the United States and Australia have come up with another method to try and create coral that can tolerate rising sea temperatures. They are trying to cross-breed coral so that heat-tolerant genes can be passed on.

Research lead by Mikhail Matz at the University of Texas studied coral in the Great Barrier Reef and coral from 300 miles south where the water was cooler. They discovered that coral from the warmer water was 10 times more likely to survive temperature rises. They also discovered that when coral from the two locations were cross-bred the genes for heat tolerance could be passed on.

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Using vinegar to kill coral predators

Humble vinegar could be the latest tool to help save dying coral. Scientists in Australia have discovered that the household ingredient kills the crown-of-thorns starfish which damage the Great Barrier Reef.

A trial at the Australian Institute of Marine Science has found that injecting the starfish with vinegar showed a 100 per cent mortality rate. Vinegar is half the price of ox bile, which is currently used to combat the starfish.

The theory is still in trial stages and cannot be rolled out across the reef until scientists are sure that vinegar will not harm other species.

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A starfish killing robot

While vinegar may be the new chosen poison to kill crown-of-thorns starfish, a new autonomous robot has also been developed to provide a lethal injection.

The robot, know as COTSbot, uses GPS to cruise around the sea-floor looking for the crown-of-thorns starfish. Once it spots its victim, it then uses an extended arm to administer a fatal injection. This current model uses bile salts to kill the starfish rather than vinegar.

Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are hoping to have the robot, which should be capable of administering 200 fatal shots in an eight-hour period, fully operational on the Great Barrier Reef by next year. Although earlier this year Unesco voted not to put Australia's Great Barrier Reef on a world "danger list", it is still considered to be under threat.

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Using electrical currents to stimulate growth

A new method being used to save the world’s coral is placing giant underwater metal cages fed with electric currents to encourage rapid coral growth. The electric field creates a chemical reaction that results in calcium carbonate being deposited on the metal structure, which coral likes.

One of the more successful trials of this method was in the waters surrounding Vabbinfaru island where a 12-metre steel cage called Lotus was placed on the sea floor. The cage has now been so covered with coral that it is hard to distinguish on the sea floor.

Architect Margot Krasojevic has also designed an elaborate concept for artificial reefs with electric currents, which it is hoped would both act as a reef for divers and help to protect the Indonesian coastline from tsunamis.

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Using 3D technology to monitor damage

Scientists are using innovative 3D technology to monitor coral deterioration. A project being lead by the Hydrous team is aiming to capture the world’s coral in 3D so that any change or detrition can be easily monitored. They stitch together thousands of photographs than can either be kept as digital models or 3D printed. As well as monitoring the coral it is also hoped that the technology will make it easier for people to interact with coral.

With the same intention of making coral more accessible it is now possible to explore the oceans with Google’s new underwater Street View. After four-years of underwater mapping you can now experience some of your bucket list dives without having to even get wet.

Both of these projects hope that by showcasing the beauty of coral it will make people think more about the impact of climate change.

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