A partnership between The Florida Aquarium and researchers in London could have a big impact on the work to restore coral reefs.
The Tampa nonprofit is working on technology that would allow coral to reproduce four times a year, instead of the natural once-a-year reproduction cycle, said Roger Germann, president and CEO, at the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator’s Connection to Innovation event Wednesday night.
Creating more “coral babies” is vital to saving the marine animals, which Germann said are an essential and vital component of the ecosystems, but have been threatened or destroyed by climate change and disease.
Not only are coral reefs breeding ground for many fish and other ocean species, but they provide resources and services worth billions of dollars annually, including supporting commercial fisheries and tourism destinations, serve as a source of new medicine and buffer shorelines, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Florida Coral Reef Track, from Broward County to the Florida Keys, is the third largest reef system in the world, but has seen a rapid decline, especially in the last two years, Germann said.
The Florida Aquarium is one of the few organizations that’s been successful in breeding coral and already is doing land-based coral reproduction at its Center for Conservation at Apollo Beach.
“We have 5,000 coral babies sitting down in Apollo Beach with the goal of next year being able to put them back in the wild in these nurseries and eventually replant them,” Germann said.
Coral by nature is a slow-growing animal that spawns only once a year, when conditions are perfect. Scientists at the Horniman Museum in London have figured out a way to breed a type of Pacific coral out of cycle, and the Florida Aquarium is working with them on that project, Germann said.
“We believe what will happen is the Florida Aquarium will be the first in the world to breed Caribbean staghorn coral four times in one year. That’s huge,” Germann said. “It will all be in our facility in Apollo Beach. It will all be in controlled environments.”
Coral research and preservation is among several conservation priorities for the aquarium. The organization also is focused on shark preservation, by working with fishermen to create alternative fishing practices and by educating communities about the important role of sharks.
Additionally, the aquarium is about to open a 10,000-square-foot facility at Apollo Beach for endangered sea turtles, in order to rehabilitate them and return them to the ocean.
The Florida-Israel Business Accelerator plans quarterly events to highlight innovation in the Tampa Bay area, said Rachel Feinman, executive director.
“The primary mission of FIBA is to attract some of the most cutting edge and high potential Israeli technology companies to Tampa. However, we all know that there’s remarkable innovation happening here in our backyard. That’s why we designed Connection to Innovation. We want to spotlight the innovation that’s happening here,” Feinman said.
During the event, Feinman also interviewed John Luetzow, regional sales manager for ECOncrete, which took part in FIBA’s accelerator program earlier this year. The company has bio-enhancing concrete products that increase the ecological value of breakwaters, seawalls and pier piles, while improving their structural performance.
ECOncrete is working on the Living Breakwaters, an 18-mile mitigation project in Staten Island, New York, and also is involved at Commerce Park in south St. Petersburg, Luetzow said.