Researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and several partnering organizations have built the world's first frozen repository for the Great Barrier Reef.
At the end of November 2011, two species of reef-building coral spawned - and scientists were there to collect the sperm and embryonic cells for deep-freeze storage. The samples, from the corals Acropora tenuis and A. millepora, are safely stored at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Australia. These frozen cells could someday be reintroduced into ecosystems to restore a coral species or increase the genetic diversity of a population.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system, stretching 1,800 miles along the Queensland coast of Australia. Like all coral reefs, it supports a rich variety of life and provides numerous ecological services, such as storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, providing a natural storm barrier for coastlines, and sheltering many vulnerable or endangered species, some of which are found nowhere else on earth. The Great Barrier reef is also financially and culturally important to Australians, generating up to $1 billion annually for the country's economy and inspiring pride as a World Heritage Site.
Coral reefs are threatened by climate change, pollution, disease, and destructive fishing practices. Coral reefs, along with all the marine creatures they support, are in danger of disappearing within the next hundred years, according to the Smithsonian Institute.
This work is the result of a partnership between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Insitiute, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Australian Institute of Marine Science, and Monash University.