The Israeli desert is not exactly where you’d expect to find a coral farm, so far from the Red Sea, but in the Negev desert is precisely where OkCoral has set up their coral farming operation. Unlike the typical coral farm, OkCoral’s purpose is not to grow corals as ornaments in our reef aquarium, but instead to grow the corals in clinically clean and disease-free conditions for use in bone-grafting procedures.
Current options for bone-grafting can involve two very painful procedures and the substrate used for bone-grafting, either existing bone or wild harvested coral can lead to complications due to infections or the immune system rejecting the foreign object. Due to corals’ porous skeleton and very bio-friendly aragonite skeleton, this particular type of calcium carbonate is extremely well suited in bone grafts to repair crushed or otherwise really badly damaged limbs.
We remember reading about the possibility of using corals for this purpose at least 20 years ago but new advancements in coral culture and the use of coral skeletons in bone-grafting procedures has made the concept much more prevalent. Where OkCoral actually grows the coral, another company CoreBone takes the coral skeletons and processes it into a usable form for bone grafting.
When we first heard that this story was really a thing, we wanted to know what species are being used to fix people. In this short CNN Video you can clearly see Stylophora, Acropora, Seriatopora and a few others in culture at OkCoral. You gotta give some credit to Assaf Shaham, founder of OkCoral who seems to have the “reefing gene” in his DNA as he describes how he got started: “In six years of growing corals, I haven’t left these four walls for more than 12 hours — not even once, For me, it’s 100% learning as I go. I take the mother colony, and I cut off a branch of the coral with a diamond saw”.
In the video, familiar aquarium devices are clearly visible all over the laboratory farm including LED spotlights, a mag float, and an illustrated guide to stony corals poster. It’s easy to think that our hobby is just a past time and yeah we’ve all heard the similar refrain that coral reefs are the “rain forests of the sea” with promises of curing all kinds of human ailments. What we really admire about OkCoral is that this is essentially a coral farm that has delivered on the long awaited promise of coral reefs and coral culture doing good for humankind. [Smithsonian]