- Brooke Collier
3 REASONS WHY GENE BANKS WILL ADVANCE CORAL CONSERVATION
Counting Coral designs, donates and installs stainless steel sculptural coral gene banks. This approach to restoration will advance the speed and effectiveness of coral restoration, a matter so vital for ocean health. Gene banks are a collection of seeds, plants, tissue cultures, and in our case; coral genes. The genes in the gene bank are organized, conserved for the long term, and then utilized for the planting of more productive, and resilient varieties. Counting Coral has not only created a system that preserves coral genetics, but the bank itself is a unique art installation.
Image by Damien Beri of the sculptural gene bank from up above.
We want to share with you a few prominent reasons why gene banks are an important component to advancing reef restoration.
Biodiversity is a measurement of species richness in a community or area; the diversity within and between the species. Coral reefs are known to be the most biologically diverse of all marine ecosystems, surpassing tropical rainforests. Coral reefs support an estimated 25 percent of all marine life and 32 of the current 34 existing animal phyla.
Biodiversity is essential for the processes that support all life on Earth, including humans. For oceans to function, the biodiversity of the reefs need to be taken into consideration. Counting Coral knew that sustaining reef biodiversity was a deciding factor in our unique approach.
Image by Brooke True of Cabbage Patch Reef; rich in biodiversity.
Our sculptural gene banks can contain corals from multiple reefs, and from each reef, we make sure to harvest and plant rare coral species. With a changing climate and the damage of human activity, we continue to lose rare coral species around the world.
Our gene bank ensures that the rare coral species are kept in a controlled environment, safe from predation and the spreading of disease. If we only preserved and grew singular coral species, then the future reef will be mono-cultured and not as productive. Taking rich biodiversity from a reef will lower its chances of survival. By harvesting rare coral species, we are supporting the coral biodiversity that is essential for reef life to flourish.
When water temperatures get too warm, corals expel the algae (zooxanthellae) that symbiotically live in their tissues. This causes the coral to turn completely white, a process called coral bleaching. Some corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.
There are coral species that can withstand the rising ocean temperatures. Evidently, these corals are genetically more superior than the corals that die due to the warm temperatures. These corals are known as super corals, genetically superior corals, climate resilient corals, hot spot corals etc.
Image by Damien Berri ; a close-up look at coral polyps.
In some shallow reef systems, there are ‘hot spots’ which are known to face high ocean temperatures. These hot spot areas contain genetically superior corals that have not died, often showing their genetic superiority.
These rare and superior corals are ideal for planting in the gene bank as they are the genes that will build a future of resiliency. When thinking about the future, we want to be growing and spawning corals that we know can survive a changing climate and rising ocean temperatures. Ocean temperatures are not predicted to drop in the near future, however we can preserve resilient genetics so that when planted out onto the reefs, the corals can withstand the evergrowing ocean temperatures.
Image by Brooke True; a look at one section of the coral gene bank.
The Conveyor Belt System
Gene banks play an important role in the long-term conservation of coral genetics and are necessary in the conservation of diversity. For the system to be effective in the realm of coral restoration, we will not be outplanting from the ‘mother plant’.
The gene bank consists of carefully selected rare and resilient species, that once planted on the sculpture, become the mother plants. The mother plants then grow and experience multiple spawning cycles, which naturally propagate the nearby reef.
Image by Brooke True ; Mother Plants.
We then take small fragments (clones) from the mother plants, and plant them onto our secondary nursery. These pieces will be grown out to a suitable size and then hand planted back into their original reef system. The conveyor belt system then continues as we return to the gene bank to start the process again.
Fragmenting the mother plant from the gene pool allows for a far more controlled restoration process. The progress of the fragmented clones can be tracked in different temperatures, depths and light. The goal of the gene bank is not only to keep the corals safe, but to better understand the genetic diversity and allow for controlled research.
Image by Damien Beri ; 'The Mother Plant'.
Counting Coral’s sculptural gene banks play a pivotal part in maintaining biodiversity, especially with the looming threat of climate change. With the never-ending pressure on reef longevity, gene banks take on the imperative role of being the source of genetic diversity and protection.
Counting Coral’s sculptural parks are designed to be scaled and grow thousands of mother plants, and tens of thousands of fragments. Our mission is to install sculptural coral gene banks around the world in reef dependent communities, so that reef ecosystems have a strong chance of a future.