Researchers have successfully tested a new method of freezing and storing coral larvae from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. They say the method could help restore reefs threatened by climate change.
Researchers are scrambling to protect coral reefs as rising ocean temperatures destabilize delicate ecosystems. The Great Barrier Reef has experienced four bleaching episodes in the past seven years, including its first ever bleaching event during a La Nina phenomenon, which typically brings cooler temperatures, according to Reuters.
Frozen corals can be stored and later released back into the wild, but the current process requires sophisticated equipment, including lasers. Researchers say a new cryogenic preservation alternative may be cheaper and better at preserving corals.
Laboratory restoration of reefs, very possible in the future
In a world-first laboratory test with corals from the Great Barrier Reef, scientists used the alternative to freeze coral larvae at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS). The coral was collected from the reef for the tests, which coincided with the short annual breeding window.
“If we can secure coral biodiversity … then we’ll have tools in the future to actually help restore reefs, and this technology for coral reefs of the future is truly revolutionary,” said Mary Hagedorn, principal investigator at the Smithsonian National Zoo. and Conservation Biology Institute, from the AIMS laboratory.
Cryopreservation has previously been tested on smaller and larger varieties of coral in Hawaii, and one of the tests on a larger variety failed.
Trials continue with larger varieties from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Biodiversity, ensured by freezing at -196 degrees Celsius
The technology that will help store coral larvae at minus 196 degrees Celsius has been devised by a team from the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering in the US.
“This new technology that we have will allow us to do this on a scale that can help support aquaculture and restoration interventions,” said Jonathan Daly from Taronga Conservation Society Australia.
The tests involve scientists from AIMS, the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, including Dr. Zongqi Guo, a postdoctoral associate, and Professor John C. Bischof. It was first tested on corals by PhD student Nikolas Zuchowicz.