NASHVILLE, TN (WKRN) — When you think of the Nashville Zoo, the Florida Keys probably don’t come to mind. But they are doing something behind the scenes to keep the waters in this region thriving.
Just as the Nashville Zoo helps prevent the extinction of endangered animal species through the Species Survival Plan, it also helps coral reefs thrive in the Keys.
Bryan Danson, Nashville Zoo Aquatics Area Supervisor, explained why this is necessary:
“There was a disease that crossed the Florida Keys and is now crossing the rest of the Caribbean called Sony Coral Tissue Loss Disease,” Danson explained. “This disease, unfortunately, will kill the coral and may have washed away coral heads that may be hundreds of years old. And it will kill them within weeks or even months.
“There are over twenty species of coral that are sensitive to it,” Danson said, “and it’s mostly our reef-building corals that actually build the coral reefs that are found in the Caribbean and the Florida Keys.”
The disease progresses quickly and will eventually pass, but many corals will be dead. So, working with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, the association of zoos and aquariums (including the Nashville Zoo and other aquariums and universities) removed corals before disease reached them and brought them back. in their aquarium laboratories.
“The ultimate goal is to get them to reproduce,” Danson explained. “So these corals will never come back to the wild, very unlikely. But what we’re going to try to do is try to put their babies back in the wild. What we’ve found is that they produce a lot of offspring. So even a very small colony can produce thousands and thousands of offspring. And so we can produce many more coral recruits than we can put out into the wild through sexual reproduction rather than just fragment the coral and grow it that way,” Danson said.
“Then we can start putting these corals back in the wild once the disease has taken hold, and they can survive again.” Danson said: “And the idea is that we can also improve the genetics because we also save the genetic diversity of these corals in the wild.”
Although they discovered that they could apply an antibiotic paste around the diseased part of the coral, it would be virtually impossible to do so anywhere in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean.
“But you can see where the big white dots are,” Danson pointed out. “It just forms. And then the fabric dies from there.
“And so, if they don’t put this tape on it, the antibiotic paste, then it won’t ultimately survive,” Danson explained. “But what they did was they went to all these reefs that were ahead of the disease line. They found colonies that are about this size, and of the size we have here, they only removed a few from each reef. They spread it all over the Keys so they wouldn’t take out an entire reef or anything like that, and they just took a few out of each reef and then spread them out to the other facilities.
So, it may be hard to believe, but the baby corals that were born here at the Nashville Zoo could one day replenish the reefs of the Florida Keys.
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