Less than a third of corals have legal protection from damaging activities and fishing and the oceans are both warming and becoming more acid, meaning the future is looking bleak for these sessile organisms.
- Seed banks are commonly used to store precious genetic material from plants, such as the globally renowned Svalbard Global Seed Vault. A similar concept has been applied to corals with the creation of a coral sperm bank that contains over a trillion sperm.
- It has been suggested that conservation efforts to protect existing reefs may be a lost cause by 2050 and in light of this predicted failure some researchers are collecting frozen coral sperm.
- Embryonic cells are also being harvested and stored, some of which have properties similar to stem cells and have the potential to grow into adult corals.
- The hope is that the initiative will maintain genetic diversity and that the preserved material could later be used to regenerate degraded reefs.
The idea of the coral sperm bank seems a sensible conservation measure in the face of climate change in order to secure the future of our currently diverse, but threatened reef systems. Perhaps the concept of DNA preservation and storage needs to be explored for a range of threatened species, both terrestrial and marine.