A team of scientists in Florida have managed to reproduce coral in a lab setting for the first time in a historic breakthrough that could save America's coral reefs.

Scientists reproduce pillar coral in a Florida lab
A team of scientists in the US have managed to reproduce coral in a lab setting for the first time. Image by Gianrigo Marletta/AFP/Getty

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction but it's just good ol' science as a team of researchers at the Florida Aquarium have managed to encourage endangered Atlantic pillar coral to reproduce in a lab for the first time ever. The breakthrough, which was achieved through induced spawning, could ultimately save the Florida Reef tract, otherwise known as 'America's Great Barrier Reef' and the third-largest reef in the world.

In association with researchers from London’s Horniman Museum and Gardens, the experiment began in late 2017 to create coral spawn in a lab. Scientists focused primarily on reviving the near-extinct pillar coral, a highly endangered species that has been ravaged by climate change and stony coral tissue loss disease. It's on the US threatened species list and is facing possible local extinction Florida.

Discovering a way to reproduce and breed coral in a lab means that scientists can repopulate shrinking reefs. Coral reefs around the world are facing a lot of problems right now and while the team don't want to outright say that they've found a way to prevent extinction, the future is looking more hopeful. Senior coral scientist Keri O'Neill even told NPR the development "definitely could save this species and many other species."

"It's going to take a lot of time to get our oceans back to a healthy environment that can support really healthy reefs," she added. "But now we have this option and this tool where we can keep the corals safe in a well-designed aquarium setting and then reproduce them for many years to come to restore the reefs when they're ready."

Pillar corals in a water tank
Pillar corals in a water tank at the labs of The Florida Aquarium Conservation Center. Image by Gianrigo Marletta/AFP/Getty

Now the Florida Aquarium is providing even more expertise to expand the project with plans to repopulate coral reefs along the Florida Reef Tract. Researchers are also working on different approaches to save multiple endangered species of coral that are imperative to the overall health of the reef.

“While many coral experts didn’t believe it could be done, we took that challenge to heart and dedicated our resources and expertise to achieve this monumental outcome", Roger German, the Florida Aquarium CEO said in a statement. "We remain fiercely committed to saving North America’s only barrier reef and will now work even harder to protect and restore our Blue Planet.”

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