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The Coral Bank

Creating a hobbyist-centered plan to coordinate coral propagation may aid conservation efforts in the future.

Posted: October 30, 2009

By Ethan Mizer

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coral reefs
Coral reefs hold a huge amount of biodiversity, and extraordinary efforts may be necessary to preserve them.
coral reefs
Coral reefs are like islands of densely packed life in the oceans, and they are very susceptible to the effects of climate change.

My 80-gallon is still waiting for the right pieces of driftwood. I haven’t seen anything I like at any local fish stores, and my preferred local fish store had to close down recently.

The décor has been the hardest part to decide on for me. I’d probably go nuts scouring LFSs to find the right pieces of live rock for a reef tank. Eventually I’ll take the plunge into reef tanks, and I’m fearful of this already.

I’ll admit I’m very picky when it comes to aquarium décor. I’ve taken to looking for good driftwood on some of the online auction websites. I’ll keep my eye out, and when I have the basic components, I’ll be setting up my system and providing pictures for everyone to see.

Coral Bank
I attended Reef-A-Palooza on October 23 at the Orange County Fairgrounds, and I was struck by the number of coral frags available at the show. There must have been over two-dozen vendors selling coral frags to show attendees.

This made me think about the amount of coral genetic diversity in home aquaria.

Some news reports have popped up recently about a proposed plan to store genetic information from corals in the hopes that their genetic diversity can be preserved in the face of coral reef decline.

This idea isn’t new, and several plans and methods of implementation have been proposed. One proposal I read about suggested storing genetic materials from corals in liquid nitrogen in a sort of “cryostasis.”

The principle behind storing genetic information has been around for a very long time. Agriculturally important species have been stored in seed banks for most of recorded human history. In fact, many new banks have opened to store genetic information in the face of the threat posed by climate change.

Corals are particularly sensitive to climate change, however. I think hobbyists could have a positive impact on this front. Many argue that simply saving corals from destruction by preserving their genetic information in captivity isn’t worthwhile.

However, hobbyists effectively create mini “coral banks” in their aquaria. Sure, an individual hobbyist isn’t going to have an impact on the state of corals in the wild, but between all the corals kept by reef aquarists, I suspect there is a large amount of coral genetic diversity in reef aquaria.

To have any impact at all, there would have to be an organizing principle at work. For aquarist coral collections to be useful to future conservation efforts, a massive plan to catalog all species in aquaria would have to be made.

Justin Credabel mentioned this in a talk he gave at a Southern California Marine Aquarium Society meeting a while back. He proposed labeling every coral that goes through various wholesalers with a specific code that would identify the coral in question down to the species level and its collection location.

Certainly, well structured organizations, perhaps originating from hobbyist reef clubs, could be formed to provide the needed cohesion and dedication required of individual hobbyists.

Without a system like this, private reef tanks likely wouldn’t be much help. Maybe at some point in the future, some visionary hobbyist, or a group of hobbyists, can create a coherent system to record and protect coral genetic information among dedicated hobbyists.

Of course, this is a long way off, and we still have many more important strides to take in making our hobby sustainable. First, we would have to reduce the demand for wild-collected coral.

Once that is accomplished, we can set about figuring out what we’ve got in our reef tanks how best to help preserve coral genetic diversity for future generations.

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