Wildlife Discovery Center Coral

Coral reefs have existed on Earth for 500 million years; far longer than dinosaurs and certainly humans. Although they cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, coral reefs support an estimated 25% of all marine species, making them one of the most biologically and economically important ocean ecosystems. Sadly, they are also one of the most threatened.

In an effort to protect this vital ocean resource, the Forward Foundation is pleased to collaborate with The Alligator and Wildlife Discovery Center of Madeira Beach, FL and its Marine Curator, Jay Marino on a sustainable coral farming initiative.

Problems in the Wild

• Acidification of the Ocean: Due to the overabundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the earth’s oceans have become highly acidified. This has a harmful impact on our coral reefs because carbon dioxide causes corals to not grow as thick as they naturally would, rendering them more susceptible to breakage.

• Ocean Warming: The overabundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also results in higher ocean temperatures, which disrupts the symbiotic relationship between corals and the algae that lives on them. As a result of algae abandoning corals—thus leaving corals without their food source—corals turn white and become “bleached,” rendering them more susceptible to disease and death.

• Slash‐and‐Burn Farming: This agricultural method refers to the cutting down and burning of old vegetation to plant new seeds in its place. As a result of this method, pollutive runoff and silt are washed into the ocean during rainstorms, causing sedimentation. When “smothered” by sediments, corals are more susceptible to disease and death because they are unable to grow, feed, and reproduce as normal.

Coral Propagation

In the past, coral was harvested from the reef and shipped worldwide to meet the growing demands within the hobby. As we learned this practice could not be sustained, we began learning how to farm corals. Most corals in the wild will be grazed upon by fish, broken by tumultuous storms, and eroded at the base by various organisms. The fragments that are left over attach to new substrate and begin cultivating new colonies.

Aquarists around the world began purposefully breaking, or “fragging” corals in order to farm them. Each small piece of coral is glued to a plug and allowed to heal and grow. Under ideal conditions, a small fragment of coral can transform into a small colony within 6 months to a year.

Fishermen in parts of the world where harvest is legal began this process with mariculture—farming corals on tables in the ocean. Mariculture allows for corals to be harvested regularly as mother colonies are continually broken down and regrown under ideal conditions in the sea, keeping wild stocks safe from overfishing.

Coral Aquaculture

Aquaculture is the process of farming corals in aquarium settings. The most desirable species and colors of coral are selected to ensure demand for the often labor‐intensive, time‐demanding practice. This practice has led to a decreased demand for wild-collected colonies that do not adapt as well to aquarium life.

Additionally, aquaculture colonies have the highest chance of success as a result of being grown in aquariums. However, mariculture colonies are smaller and more adaptable. With these practices in place, our reefs and our hobby will continue to grow and be here for future generations to enjoy.

Beyond the aquarium, the practices of aquaculture and mariculture are now being used to farm resilient species of corals with the purpose of repopulating our wild reefs. In a controlled setting, these corals have acclimated to higher temperatures and nutrient levels, as well as lower PH levels, giving them a better chance at survival when planted on our Florida reefs.

How You Can Help

• Wear reef‐safe sunscreen

• Decrease your use of disposable plastics

• Support organic farming

• Don’t touch any corals or other wildlife when scuba diving

• Lower your carbon footprint

To learn more about the aquaculture program at the Alligator and Wildlife Discovery Center, visit their website or tour the center located at John’s Pass in Madeira Beach, Florida.