Posted on | August 20, 2010 | Comments Off
Scientists at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology and the Smithsonian Institution have created the first frozen bank for Hawaiian corals in an attempt to protect them from extinction and to preserve their diversity in Hawaiʻi. Mary Hagedorn, an adjunct faculty member at HIMB and a research scientist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, leads the laboratory on Coconut Island that is banking the frozen coral cells.
“Because frozen banked cells are viable, the frozen material can be thawed 1, 50 or, in theory, even 1,000 years from now to restore a species or population,” says Hagedorn. “In fact, some of the frozen sperm samples have already been thawed and used to fertilize coral eggs to produce developing coral larvae.”
Coral reefs are living, dynamic ecosystems that provide invaluable services. However, coral reefs are experiencing unprecedented levels of degradation due to human impact. Locally, reefs are affected by pollution and sedimentation from poor land-use practices, nutrient run-off from farms and waste-treatment plants and destructive practices such as dynamite fishing and trawls.
Unless action is taken now, coral reefs and many of the animals that depend on them may cease to exist within the next 40 years, causing the first global extinction of a worldwide ecosystem during current history.
“This work highlights the importance of basic science and discovery for developing creative solutions to pressing conservation problems,” says Steve Monfort, director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “We are confident that this effort will one day help to restore these vital marine ecosystems.”