While they might be easily mistaken for rocks or plants, coral reefs are actually colonies of animals. These small but mighty creatures constitute one of Earth's oldest and most important ecosystems. But climate change threatens every one of coral's 800-plus species, all of which reproduce very infrequently. To fight back, Mary Hagedorn created the ocean's first fertility clinic—a global effort equipped with cryopreservation technology and a determined team of scientists. Story Via: Great Big Story
Coral reefs are colonies of small animals that play a mighty role in our planet's health.
Over 800 species of coral cover only a percentage of the ocean floor—providing home-sweet-homes to a dizzying array of underwater species. It's estimated that 25% of all marine life lives on a coral reef at some point of its existence. Actually, coral supports the algae that produce 50% to 85% of Earth's oxygen.
To scientist Mary Hagedorn, they are "the most magnificent creatures on Earth"—ones she's racing the clock and climate change to protect.
The challenge is big: research points to the possibility that 50% of our coral reefs have died in the last 30 years. But from her enviably scenic office at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, Mary leads a tireless, global effort to save them. She's developed cryopreservation technologies to preserve coral sperm and fertilized eggs, and her team has managed to conserve over 30 species worldwide, to date. "Cryopreservation," Mary says, "is the biology of saving cells at cool temperatures so that they're no longer active. They're frozen but alive."
With all 800-plus species of coral threatened by increasingly warming and acidifying waters, the technology allows scientists to continually create a "book of life," and facilitates the reseeding of coral reefs.
It's a huge step in protecting the biodiversity of one of Earth's most reproductively constrained animals. In the Great Barrier Reef, for example, there are 400 species of coral, each of them reproducing just two nights a year for a mere 40 minutes each time.
Collecting coral sperm and eggs is a complicated production, one that varies from species to species—and one that requires a global team to work as quickly as possible.
"It's critical that we do this work now because we have a great deal of biodiversity left in our ocean," Mary told the Great Big Story. "Time is fleeting."