The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, is a vast underground cavern that holds almost every type of seed in the world. The idea behind it is that if there is ever a regional or global disaster, the Vault will be able to replicate the destroyed plant life. It is essentially a Noah’s Ark for the world’s plant population, and an insurance policy against an ecological nightmare. A similar idea is now being considered for the world’s coral species. Due to rising ocean temperatures, scientists from the United States and Australia are attempting to freeze coral eggs and sperm so that the endangered species can be preserved.
The problem is particularly prevalent on The Great Barrier Reef where pollution and other man-made influences are threatening to destroy one of the world’s largest natural wonders.
It is hoped that by freezing coral samples in cryogenic suspension, they can later be grown in a lab and implanted in reefs. For certain endangered species at The Great Barrier Reef, this could be the only way to ensure their survival.
“If we were to use it right now, we have the ability to take the sperm, thaw it out, re-animate it and fertilize eggs and create sexually produced coral,” said Mary Hagedom, a scientist from the Smithsonian Institute.
The eggs and sperm are frozen separately, but there a number of factors facing the team – namely which one to freeze first.
“It depends on a lot of factors, including whether a species lends itself to freezing. Some species survive the freezing process better than others,” said Madeline van Oppen, a scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science speaking to Public Radio International.
Other methods are also being discussed to save the world’s coral population, including attempts to produce a form of super-coral that could be used to repair damaged parts of reefs.