The Eureka Mistake

Branching Corals, such as staghorn, have always been known as fragile branches that can break, or fragment, from a massive coral after a storm, or artificially in a home aquarium, and can grow fast and reattach on their own. This became the early method of choice in a field nursery.

The slow growth of coral seemed to make the original fragmentation a technology that would not be fast enough to make a difference in coral restoration. It was during this realization that Dr. Vaughan made his “eureka mistake”.

When moving coral samples from the top level of the aquarium to the bottom, one of the corals had grown attached to the wall and broke apart when it was removed, not only ripping a hole in the coral, but leaving three small polyps at the bottom of the tank. His immediate thought was that those corals would not make it, and moved the broken piece to another tank, to be almost forgotten. Almost two weeks later, he decided to check on the broken coral and found that it had already regrown the damaged tissue! Growth that had taken 2 years had occurred in a fraction of that time. This gave him such hope that he rushed to check the other tank with the polyps to find that they had not only survived, but had multiplied and grown to the size of a dime.

After this discovery, Dr. Vaughan has continued his research to find that if all corals can continue to cut smaller and smaller pieces of coral, down to one polyp they produce large numbers of fast growing corals.These small pieces of coral, when placed in proximity to each other, will grow together and fuse back as one piece.

Using this method, he can grow a coral in 1-2 years that would normally have taken 15-25 years. We can regrow our reefs at a rate that can make a difference!

Read New York Times, November 25, 2014- A Lifesaving Transplant for Coral Reefs