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3.For 27-Time Hopi High Cross-Country Champs, Running Is Tradition
4.Saving India’s Most Sacred River
5.Sea Change: The Battle Against Poaching in Palau
6.How Puffins Have Divided This Canadian Town
7.How Scientists Are Protecting Tigers in Thailand
8.How This Mexican Chef Is Changing Perceptions With Food
9.The Architect Powering Up Puerto Rico
10.Meet the Super Dogs Protecting Mother Earth
11.Discovering the Mystery of the Eagle Ray
12.Mission Wild, a New Series From Great Big Story
13.Watching Over Birds of Prey
14.Bringing Sri Lanka’s Mangroves Back to Life
15.Preserving Prehistoric Lizards With the 'Iguanero'
16.Blind Birdwatcher Sees With Sound
17.The Animal Sculptures Giving New Life to Recycled Paper
18.The Part-Time Heroes Protecting Our Oceans: A Great Big Film
19.Oceanic Trouble? Summon These Aquanauts! | That's Amazing
20.Deciphering the Secret Language of Whales
21.Sneak Peek: The Aquatic World With Philippe Cousteau Season 2
22.Around the World in 6,856 Birds
23.These Wildcats Need the Forest to Survive
24.The Fine Art of Television Repair
25.Brazil’s National Symbol Is Disappearing in the Wild
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of snorkeling shallow blue waters or diving deep in the sea, you’ve come close to one of Earth’s oldest and most important ecosystems. Easily mistaken for rocks or plants, coral reefs are colonies of small animals that play a mighty role in our planet’s health.
Some long and spindly, others brain-like or tubular, over 800 species of coral cover only a percent of the ocean floor—providing home-sweet-homes to a dizzying array of underwater species. It’s estimated that 25% of all marine life lives on a coral reef at some point of its existence, a biodiversity rivaling that of tropical rainforests. And though they exist out of sight (and perhaps out of mind) for most land dwellers, coral supports the algae that produces 50% to 85% of Earth’s oxygen. Took a breath today? Thank coral reefs. To scientist Mary Hagedorn, they are “the most magnificent creatures on Earth”—ones she’s racing the clock and climate change to protect.
The challenge is big: research points to the possibility that 50% of our coral reefs have died in the last 30 years. But from her enviably scenic office at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, Mary leads a tireless, global effort to save them. She’s developed cryopreservation technologies to preserve coral sperm and fertilized eggs, and her team has managed to conserve over 30 species worldwide, to date. “Cryopreservation,” Mary says, “is the biology of saving cells at cool temperatures so that they're no longer active. They're frozen but alive.”
With all 800-plus species of coral threatened by increasingly warming and acidifying waters, the technology allows scientists to continually create a “book of life,” and facilitates the reseeding of coral reefs. It’s a huge step in protecting the biodiversity of one of Earth’s most reproductively constrained animals. Hermaphrodites, coral produce both sperm and egg—but rarely. In the Great Barrier Reef, for example, there are 400 species of coral, each of them reproducing just two nights a year for a mere 40 minutes each time.
Collecting coral sperm and eggs is a complicated production, one that varies from species to species—and one that requires a global team to work as quickly as possible. “It's critical that we do this work now because we have a great deal of biodiversity left in our ocean,” Mary says. “Time is fleeting.”
This is the third story in our latest series, “The Brave,” all about the incredible people protecting our Great Big Planet.
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