Have you ever wondered what young corals look like and how they grow? Book a visit to the Aquarium to see some “baby” corals, learn more about these fascinating animals (yes, they’re animals—not plants!) and discover why coral reefs are critically important to the health of the marine environment. The new habitat is now open—get your tickets today.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CORALS
Coral reefs are one of the most complex ecosystems on Earth: although they cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, they support an estimated 25% of all marine species. But coral populations are in decline around the world due to a variety of causes including climate change, ocean acidification, shoreline development and destructive fishing practices. (Ocean acidification is also having an impact on the shellfish industry in Washington state.)
OUR OWN CORAL NURSERY
For many years at the Seattle Aquarium, we’ve grown our own corals to prevent them from being removed from the wild. We’ve also been able to share surplus corals with other zoos and aquariums to reduce the impact our industry has on wild coral populations.
Young corals being relocated to their new homes in our coral nursery.
CORALS FROM NEAR—AND FAR
Where do our corals come from? Those in our new habitat are being cultured from cuttings taken from mature colonies in our Tropical Pacific habitat. For many coral species, including those in our new habitat, if a fragment of coral is removed, it can keep living—and even form the basis for a whole new colony if conditions are right.
Aside from cuttings from mature colonies, we also sometimes receive donations of surplus corals from other zoos and aquariums—just as we sometimes share surplus corals of our own. We also receive donations from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) when corals are imported illegally into the United States.
When the USFWS find contraband coral during a standard inspection of a shipment, that coral is confiscated. But it isn’t left to die—instead, it’s offered to marine facilities (like ours) that have indicated their willingness and ability to accept confiscated corals.
We're aiming to provide optimum conditions for growth in the new coral nursery, including plenty of light.
FROM BEHIND THE SCENES TO STAR OF THE SHOW
Our “farm” for young corals has traditionally been located behind the scenes, out of view of our guests. Now, as we prepare for our expansion and begin growing corals for the habitats in our new Ocean Pavilion building, which will be centered on marine environments in the region known as the Coral Triangle, we’re sharing a peek at our coral propagation program and drawing more awareness to importance of coral conservation.
The Ocean Pavilion will showcase several large, living coral habitats. And, although it isn’t slated to open for a few more years, coral grows slowly—so we need to begin the growth process early. We’ve selected fast-growing corals and still need three to four years before opening to allow plenty of time for the colonies to grow.