Thai scientists innovate to save coral

In the laboratory and the oceans, Thailand’s scientists are saving precious marine life with a breakthrough method of breeding coral through frozen sperm cells, and by using Superglue to save and regenerate dying coral at Maya Bay, the famous setting for the Hollywood film The Beach.

Coral reefs are under threat worldwide from human activity and rising temperatures associated with climate change. Many governments have declared their coral reefs protected areas. Coral is essential to the ocean’s ecosystems that in turn support human life. Coral provides food and shelter for other marine life, and when coral dies, other marine life also disappears.

According to the most recent issue of the scientific journal Cryobiology, marine scientists at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok have pioneered the use of cryopreservation, or freezing, on coral sperm cells for use in future breeding.

“Coral reefs can breed naturally, but ‘bleached’ coral cannot produce enough eggs and sperm to successfully reproduce,” Prof. Suchana Chavanich of Chulalongkorn University said. Warmer water temperatures are bleaching coral reefs in many locations.

“Corals that are bred through cryopreservation have a survival rate of between 40-50 percent, far higher than the 0.01 percent survival rate observed in nature,” Suchana said.

The researchers at Chulalongkorn began their work on preserving coral eggs and sperm nearly two decades ago.

Meanwhile, another group of Thai marine scientists has been using a common household product to repair damaged coral: Superglue. The scientists have been gluing broken and dying pieces of coral back on to reefs and rocks at Maya Bay, the stunningly beautiful cove made famous by the Hollywood film The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The scientists said that after about a week, the coral revives itself and the glue dissolves away, leaving healthy growing coral.

Since the film’s release in 2000, tourists have overrun Maya Bay, and that has damaged the bay’s ecology and coral. The government closed Maya Bay last year to preserve it, and may keep it closed several more years so the ecosystem can repair and regenerate.