Ready for our first night dive, hoping to gather eggs from the Star Boulder Coral, M. cavernosa. The Minnesota Zoo connects people, animals and the natural world to save wildlife. One way we do that is through a special staff grant program using private funds to let Zoo staff pick wildlife conservation programs that are meaningful to them to support. Aquarist Christoph Noetzli recently traveled to Curaçao to help in the SECORE coral restoration workshop. Read more about her experience below.

I have joined the 2017 SECORE coral restoration workshop here in Curaçao thanks to the Minnesota Zoo and the Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Grant. The main goal of the workshop is to capture gametes, these are the sperm and eggs that are released from each coral polyp. We’ll collect gametes from 8 different coral species as they spawn, this occurs once a year after the full moon in September (how many nights after the moon varies by species).

Once we have the eggs and sperm, we will let them fertilize in the lab. Fertilized coral eggs then change into a swimming embryo that eventually finds a home on the sea floor. We are studying different methods to having the larvae settle and how to have them grow as efficiently as possible, both in the lab and on modified racks in the ocean.

Once settled and growing nicely, the corals are placed back on the reef, where corals have dramatically declined in recent decades.

Capturing the coral gametes at night is quite tricky and requires a lot of waiting and underwater coordination. So far we have successfully captured Monteserea cavernosa and are waiting for the eggs to turn into the swimming embryos.

Most corals are expected to really spawn starting tonight, so we anticipate a busy and long few nights ahead of us.

So far this has been an extremely educational and exhilarating workshop. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the next few days bring!
Check back to read the conclusion of Christoph’s time at the coral restoration workshop.

    Practicing coral identification ahead of spawning events.   Preparing the tiles that will be used for the coral larvae to settle on.    Christoph Noetzli 8 days ago Building in situ floating racks that will house the baby corals as they grow big enough to be planted on the reef.   Photo ID and measurement of spawning M. cavernosa Eggs and sperm mixed together. An hour later and they were fertilized, as proven through the microscope and seeing cell division.   Two hours later, confirmed fertilization. Embryo development begins!