Feeding coral polyp larvae could save degrading reef ecosystems

Feeding coral polyp larvae

Coral reefs are going through hard times today: in particular, the largest of them – the Great Barrier Reef in Australia – has already partially degraded, and now scientists are looking for ways to restore it. As it turns out, it’s not enough to disperse coral polyp larvae over damaged areas of the reef – they need to be fed to reduce mortality and allow more polyps to grow safely.

Today, coral reefs are going through hard times

The Great Barrier Reef, the largest reef ecosystem in the world, is in a sorry state today. Rising water temperatures due to global warming and pollution of the world’s oceans are the main causes of reef degradation, during which corals turn white and gradually erode.

Today, the Australian government is allocating millions of dollars from the budget to save one of the main natural attractions of the continent. One of the ways to restore damaged areas of the reef is to disperse the larvae of coral polyps, which are designed to “patch” the “bald spots” formed on it.

However, it is not enough to simply toss a portion of the larvae overboard and hope that they will take root and be able to restore the reef: they must be provided with a primary energy reserve that will allow them to successfully transform from a free-floating to an attached form. Previously, scientists had found that attached young corals most often died within a few days, as they exhausted their stored energy in the process of forming a complex external skeleton.

Now, this early mortality can be reduced with a newly developed nutrition for young corals, which has already been tested on the larvae of two species of the genus Acropora. Dividing the larvae into several groups, some were left without top dressing, while others were added to the water for three days with brine shrimp ground into porridge.

The results of the experiment leave no doubt: in both species, “fed” larvae were much more likely to successfully turn into young corals and survive until they began to feed on their own. It is likely that now all larvae will be fed before dispersal, which will allow faster “patch” of damaged reefs around the world.

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Great Barrier Reef photos