This Coral Must Die

This article discusses why coral reefs are dying off. In a lab in Philadelphia, scientists are studying what it takes to kill “super coral” to understand the impact of human activities on the mysterious reefs of the deep ocean.

In a cold room at Temple University, in landlocked Philadelphia, finger-sized fragments of coral bathe in four small tanks of seawater. The white skeletons look dead or bleached — but they’re not. Healthy animals reside within these hard bodies. Some wave their tentacles from holes in the gnarled stems, like flowers at a mermaid’s wedding.

Getting here wasn’t easy. They were clipped from reefs a thousand feet down in the Gulf of Mexico, and then housed inside a special refrigerated van which traveled by ship before an overnight express delivery to the lab. When the van broke down, some stayed in a chilled cattle trough. They were even packed into Mason jars on ice. Not all the jars made it, but the corals did.

Before today, they were kept for nearly a year in another tank designed to mimic the conditions of their home environment. A refrigerated room maintains their water at 46.4 degrees, while pumps deliver carbon dioxide, acidifying the water to levels most other sea creatures won’t tolerate. To prevent stress, the corals are strictly monitored by students who hand-feed them with pipettes, like mamas tending to baby birds.

 

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