The Zoological Society of London is planning the first global “coral cryobank” where samples from each species would be stored in liquid nitrogen.
The decision follows research showing that most coral reefs will be largely dead by 2040, wiped out by a combination of rising temperatures and increasing acidity in oceans.
They include Australia’s 1,600-mile Great Barrier Reef, most Caribbean reefs and those in the “coral triangle” which spans Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor.
“Some reefs are already beginning to fail and many will die within a few decades. We need a plan B, and freezing them is the best option.”
This decision also follows a breakthrough in regenerating coral from frozen samples. Craig Downs, of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, developed the technique and is now working with the ZSL. “We can take 1mm-2mm biopsies from coral, freeze them at -200C and thaw them out to regenerate back into a polyp,” he said. “We are proposing to do this for every species of coral on the planet.”
There are about 1,800 known tropical corals and another 3,350 cold-water species. Downs proposes keeping 1,000 samples of each in a small warehouse.
The Smithsonian Institution in Washington is discussing setting up a similar facility to mitigate against failure.
Coral reefs around the world are already showing the impacts of climate change. This year the Australian Institute of Marine Science found growth rates of corals on the Great Barrier Reef had fallen by 14% since 1990.
Another study, led by Dr Charlie Veron, a former chief scientist at the institute, warned that CO2 levels were already so high that corals were doomed.
“Atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 350 parts per million represented a threshold for the world’s reefs,” said Veron. “Beyond that, damaging heating becomes too frequent and the ecosystem starts to decline. We are already at 387ppm and reefs are beginning to fail.”
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