Creating New Tools for Coral Reef Conservation: Restoring Reefs with Cryopreservation
Coral reefs are some of the oldest, most diverse ecosystems on Earth and one of the most valuable. The overuse of fossil fuels is both warming and creating a more acidic ocean, producing a reef crisis with the potential for worldwide loss of most coral within generations. In a race to save coral biodiversity, we are working with researchers around the world, developing and employing novel solutions to address the global coral reef crisis and create hope for the future. This includes long-term monitoring of coral reproduction and physiology, the development of cryopreservation techniques for coral sperm and Symbiodinium, as well as preserving coral larvae and reef fish. We have applied these techniques, creating a worldwide bank for reefs. Our recent work has suggested shifts in coral physiology that may inhibit our ability to conserve coral species with standard cryopreservation methods. In long-term monitored populations in Hawaii, we have observed a 50% loss in sperm motility since 2015, a reduction of motile energy from 2 h to less than 20 min related to sperm mitochondrial function since 2017, and a loss of the ability to cryopreserve Symbiodinium since 2016. The species in Hawaii have been intensively monitored, but evidence from other coral ecosystems suggest that some of these reproductive changes are happening globally. The mechanisms underlying these loses are still unknown, but they point to profound shifts in physiology that will undermine a coral’s ability to adapt rapidly to our changing climate.