Due to the major coral bleaching events that have occurred across the planet, many scientists have begun to consider methods of artificial coral reef restoration.
One of them is Amy Steward, a master’s student in marine biology, who is working on a project that allows coral offspring to grow on ceramic beads with holes nested in colonies of coral.
Steward, who works under Dr. Laurie Raymundo, has been testing different beads to capture and retain coral offspring.
This experience makes it possible to gather the offspring and to be able to grow in a colony. Many offspring of corals cannot reach maturity because of ocean currents that can sweep them away when released from their parent coral.
“There are many other methods to ensure the growth of coral offspring. When restoring a colony, scientists often fragment the corals,” Steward said.
The fragments are then transferred to laboratories where the corals are brought to reproduce. “However, it can stress the corals and potentially lead to their death,” Steward said.
“With the pearls, we hope that the corals don’t become as stressed, which in turn may allow for a higher rate of reproduction.”
Steward added that sexual propagation in corals has not always been successful.
“Sexual propagation takes a long time and requires a lot of attention. It also failed in many studies.
Few people have experienced sexual propagation, so Steward and his team think it would be useful to test and observe how coral species can develop.
Another element of this experience is the positive interaction between adult corals and immature corals.
During Steward’s undergraduate studies at Duke University, she and her mentor investigated how positive interactions between corals can lead to healthier conditions for the species. Positive interactions allow corals to protect each other and attract other marine species to inhabit their colonies.
For this experiment, Steward hopes the adult corals will house the young corals as they grow in their ceramic shells.
To test this, Steward placed collected coral fragments next to beads containing coral offspring.
“When there is an adult coral nearby, predators will be less likely to prey on baby corals. Adult corals may also later provide essential zooxanthellae to corals that will allow corals to feed and attract organisms that can help them survive.
By artificially growing corals, coral populations will be able to thrive because there will be more resources available for young corals to reach adulthood and reproduce naturally.
“The most important thing to do now is to educate the public about coral population declines and how they can help sustain corals,” Steward said. “Everything from beach cleanups to rallies against climate change can help marine organisms survive.”
Miwa Gudmundsen is a student at St. John’s and a reporting intern on PDN Vibe. She also works at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory as an intern, working with university scientists on projects such as studying the sensitivity of corals to heat stress. If you have questions or suggestions for his environmental column, email