How To: Regrow a coral reef

I'm totally fascinated by this photo that the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program posted to their Facebook page. It shows little branches of staghorn coral growing on a "tree" made of PVC pipes. Harvested from wild coral colonies when they're only 5 cm long, these samples will double in size every two months while attached to the tree. Once they've put on enough heft, they're transplanted to new homes on damaged coral reefs, where they grow into the surrounding environment and help to restore ecosystems that could otherwise be lost. I'd heard about coral restoration before, but had never seen pictures of the process. At the RJD website, you can see a series of photos that take you through it step-by-step. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it looks a lot like underwater gardening — similar to grafting fruit trees.

Of coral and common sense: Why it's important to test our theories

Pseudopterosins are a family of naturally occurring chemicals with the power to reduce inflammation, skin irritation, and pain. In other words, they make a great additive in skin cream. If you want skin that less red, pseudopterosins can help. Want a lotion that soothes your face after a particularly vigorous round of exfoliation? Call on pseudopterosins.

Pseudopterosins come from a coral called Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae. That's it in the photo above. For years, researchers and pharmaceutical companies thought they were sustainably harvesting P. elisabethae because, instead of simply gathering any of the coral they could find, they merely pruned it — leaving plenty of the creature to grow back.

But, it turns out that this is a really good example of a frustrating problem — what seems sustainable is not always actually sustainable. Doing the right thing, environmentally speaking, isn't as intuitive as we'd like it to be. (Also, pruning an animal isn't like pruning a plant.) At Deep Sea News, Dr. M explains:

After prunings in 2002 and 2005 and before the annual spawning, Christopher Page and Howard Lasker examined 24 pruned corals and 20 unpruned corals. What the researchers found is that although colonies appeared healthy pruned corals produced less eggs. ... Why would pruned corals produce less eggs and sperm? When organisms are injured more energy is diverted away from reproduction and toward repair. Interestingly, this pruning may actually also creating artificial selection. If workers are targeting larger and fuller corals to prune, then smaller less thick corals will be reproducing more and eventually become more dominant.

This is why science is important. Because, frequently, "common sense" isn't really all that sensical.

Read the full story