TheAge.Com.Au: Coral reef cryogenic plan gets under way
AN AMBITIOUS plan to create a ''coral bank'' of frozen reef polyps so that they can survive extinction is being developed by Australian researchers.
The proposal would mean that as sections of the Great Barrier Reef are eroded by global warming, ocean acidification and coral bleaching events, they could be repopulated from embryos stored at Taronga Zoo.
''This is really an insurance program to take the coral out of an uncertain situation and put it in a place that is 100 per cent safe for a very long time,'' said the zoo's manager of research and conservation, Rebecca Spindler.
Advertisement: Story continues below ''When you store organic material at minus 296 degrees [Fahrenheit] it can stay at that point forever because matter simply cannot break down.''
The zoo's liquid nitrogen tanks already hold the sperm and eggs of a menagerie of animal species, including 300 genetically different rhinos, but the coral plan will be a first.
''What we need to be able to do is be in a position to bring back those ecosystems that die immediately - this is about getting the tools and the training now so we don't have to do it in haste later,'' Dr Spindler said.
The plan will draw on the zoo's expertise for cryogenic freezing as well as researchers at Monash University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, which is a world leader in the study of coral.
The participants have in mind training marine scientists from across the Pacific to collect coral sperm, eggs and embryos when coral species spawn.
The race is on to find sponsor organisations before the next major series of coral spawning events off the east coast in November.
''At this stage we are waiting to see what will arise,'' said Madeleine van Oppen, the institute's principal research scientist.
''We aim to focus first on the most heat sensitive corals, some of the branching corals, but we want to take it broader as well - it depends on funding.''
When cyclone Yasi hit last month, some coral structures that had taken centuries to build up were smashed.
''Some of the most sensitive species have disappeared locally, said Dr van Oppen, ''but some other species seem to be able to cope quite well with changes in their environment.''