Raising baby corals is a labor-intensive process that requires gathering the babies at the moment the corals spawn in the wild. Scientists compete with fish that feast on the babies, netting the gametes and planulae, then caring for them in a lab until they can be planted on the ocean floor.
Over the past two decades, Chamberland and other scientists throughout the Caribbean—many of them now associated with a research and conservation group called SECORE, which stands for Sexual Coral Reproduction—have stubbornly advanced the art and science of raising coral babies. Through trial and error, these researchers have learned to better predict the quiet, hidden phenomenon of coral spawning, to fertilize coral eggs in the lab, and to foster young corals until they're ready to grow in the open sea, on a living reef.
Newborn corals are, in their way, as high-maintenance and idiosyncratic as their human counterparts, and the process of raising and releasing them, formally known as "assisted recruitment," is full of frustrations and disappointments. Thanks to some recent successes and to rising interest from conservationists, however, the job is becoming easier and cheaper.
As coral scientist Raphael Ritson-Williams explains, corals are like the buildings of a city, supplying apartments and restaurants, so preserving these living structures allows a city of creatures to thrive: