We recently came across this great TED talk which presents some pretty interesting research about coral larval behavior, and what it may take for baby corals to survive and thrive in a changing ocean environment.
“How we’re growing baby corals to rebuild reefs” in an informative TED talk by Coral Reef Biologist Kristen Marhaver presenting how her and her colleagues at the CARMABI Research Station in Curaçao are gaining new insights into coral reproduction. Kristen has been Investigating coral microbial ecology, larval behavior, and coral evolutions around the Island of Curaçao and using 3D printing technology to study some of the settlement preferences of coral larvae.
More specifically they have been looking at larvae from dendrogyra cylindrus, commonly known as pillar coral and some of the difficulties involved in saving this threatened species. Many of the Caribbean reefs suffer from overfishing, temperature rise, contamination from sewage runoff or damage from coastal development, all of which are leading to increase slime or algae cover and decreasing coral health.
Three and a half minutes into Kristen’s presentation she says, “now, this is the part of the talk where you may expect me to launch into my plea for us to all save the coral reefs. But I have a confession to make: that phrase drives me nuts.” We couldn’t agree more with her on this and we were very excited to see some of the solutions the CARMABI research group have to share.
To test coral settlement preferences, 3D printed tiles were made with different colors and patterns then placed in the ocean to see which corals would prefer. They found that baby corals still prefer pink to white tones, colors of a healthy reef, and that coral larvae would settle between the bumps, grooves, and holes, somewhere the felt safe and protected. From this research Kristen suggests we use these idea when we are building coastal structures like piers to encourage coral settlement.
Kristens talk is full of passion and you can see this by the way she discusses her favorite coral, “dendrogyra cylindrus, the pillar coral. I love it because it makes this ridiculous shape, because its tentacles are fat and look fuzzy and because it’s rare.”
With help from researchers in Florida the team at CARMABI were able to pinpoint the yearly spawning times of dendrogyra cylinders, leading to the observation of spawning pillar corals around Curaçao. They collect both the eggs for the female coral and sperm from the male coral, successfully fertilizing and raising dendrogyra in the lab. Kristen shows off a picture off her baby dendrogyra corals saying “if you think baby pandas are cute, this is cuter.”
In her presentation Kristen says, “How would we get someone to care about the world’s coral reefs when it’s an abstract thing they can barely understand? If they don’t understand what a coral is or where it comes from, or how funny or interesting or beautiful it is, why would we expect them to care about saving them?”
We say watching this TED talk is a mighty good start! Thank you Kristen for this greatly informative and Interesting look at the life of coral larvae.