The SECORE (SExual COral REproduction) project is a collaboration between many research and aquarium institutes to protect and restore coral reefs around the world.
Since 2006, The Deep has been involved in fieldwork in Puerto Rico (2006 and 2007), Belize (2012), Guam (2013) and Curaçao (2014). Research stations were set up to collect coral spawn, fertilise egg bundles and settle the coral larvae which then grow on to become colonies.
January 2016 marked a breakthrough in coral breeding techniques. In 2011, offspring from the critically endangered Elkhorn coral were reared from gametes collected in the field and then out planted to the reef one year later in 2012. In only 4 years they have grown to the size of a football and reproduced simultaneously with their natural population. This event marks the first ever successful rearing of a threatened Caribbean coral species to reproductive age.
The most recent field work, which took place September 2017 in Curaçao, saw the collection of gametes extended to twelve new species of coral, including the endangered Montastraea corals species and Diploria sp. which are classified as least concern by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).
Collecting gametes for lab based fertilisation during mass broadcast spawning events is more complicated and intensive than the frag-grow-transplant method that was previously used for coral reef restoration. However, it does boast a greater benefit: increased genetic diversity of the restored site. Instead of clones populating the reef, SECORE’s strategies produce a more genetically and species diverse site, creating a more natural ecosystem. In SECORE’s labs they are continually learning the secrets behind coral reproduction, devising better methods to settle the free swimming coral larvae onto hard substrate for successful transplantation.
Further cementing their dedication to reef restoration, The Deep has completed the build of a brand new Coral Research Facility, based in Hull. This new development will provide a valuable resource not only to their in-house scientists, who are working to bring the techniques learnt through SECORE into the aquarium industry, but also to university students wishing to undertake research on coral cultivation, feeding and reproduction.