Corals have been declining at a worrying rate. Some studies have established that the corals in the world’s oceans declined at a rate of 2% between 1997 and 2003, a spike from the 1% annual declining rate recorded in the late 20th century. While natural causes are partly to be blamed for the rapid decline, it is human activity that has accelerated the rate at which corals have disappeared in the world’s oceans. Scientists have, in recent years, been using coral aquaculture as a counteractive measure, to save the coral from extinction.
What is Coral Aquaculture?
Coral aquaculture can be defined as the cultivation of coral which is aimed at the conservation of coral. The cultivation of coral can also be done for commercial purposes as a source of coral for the ornamental coral businesses. Some people also practice coral aquaculture as a source of coral for their aquariums. Coral aquaculture involves the extraction of larva or segments of living coral (usually from a coral reef) and cultivating them in a controlled environment until the coral reaches adulthood. The farming practice is universally accepted as it involves minimal interference with the environment.
Propagation of coral was first recorded at the Noumea Aquarium in Germany in 1956. This exercise was mainly small-scale, and knowledge about the process was still limited. The need for coral propagation was triggered by the demand for mini-corals by aquarium hobbyists in Germany. However, it was in the United States that the first commercial propagation of coral was recorded back in the 1960s. Commercial coral propagation would still be confined to small markets in Europe and America until finally taking off in the later 20th century.
Corals have been used in the production of ornaments around the world. While the use of coral as ornaments goes back hundreds of years, the demand for coral-based ornaments has skyrocketed in recent years. The insatiable demand for corals have resulted in unsustainable exploitation of corals. Overexploitation of coral creates much stress on corals which are often not able to replenish the harvested coral. As a result, coral aquaculture is being embraced as a sustainable way of obtaining coral without harming the corals.
Conservation of Corals
One fundamental reason for coral aquaculture is the conservation and restoration of corals. Corals are an essential habitat of marine life, housing thousands of marine species. Therefore, the destruction of coral caused by global warming and aggravated by destructive human activities have a detrimental effect on the entire marine ecosystems in which the corals are found. To alleviate the decline of corals, conservationists have employed coral aquaculture to restore damaged corals, with great success.
Scientists have learned so much about corals through aquaculture. Breakthroughs in the life histories of different coral species are attributed to coral aquaculture. Research done through coral aquaculture has shown that it is possible to regenerate coral colony from fragments. Such studies are instrumental in the conservation efforts of corals. One center known for using coral aquaculture for scientific research is the Mote Marine Laboratory.