A Huge Breakthrough Might Save America's Great Barrier Reef

It's the first time anyone has reproduced Atlantic coral.

A group of scientists from the Florida Aquarium says they have successfully reproduced coral for the first time ever.

The researchers, who work out of Tampa Bay, Florida, have been working on "Project Coral" to help repopulate the Florida Reef Tract. If this latest news is any indication, they may be on track to help rebuild America's Barrier Reef — the third biggest coral reef in the world. 

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"It's pure excitement to be the first to achieve a breakthrough in the world," CEO of the Florida Aquarium Roger Germann told CNN. "Our team of experts cracked the code...that gives hope to coral in the Florida Reef Tract and to coral in the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans."

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The team's research began in 2014 with a kind of coral called Staghorn. But in recent years, they moved their focus to pillar coral, which has been crushed by a disease in Florida and is nearly extinct. The pillar coral is so far apart in the ocean now that males and females can't reproduce, and without this kind of intervention, the scientists worry that it will never be able to grow back.

Now, they have new hope. This is the first time spawns have ever been created for corals that are native to the Atlantic Ocean, and there has been a lot of doubt as to whether it was possible. 

"It's quite possible that we just had our last wild spawning of pillar coral this year due to the Stoney Coral Tissue Loss Disease," Keri O'Neill, a coral expert at the aquarium, told CNN. "But with the success of this project, as a scientist, I now know that every year for the foreseeable future we can spawn Florida pillar corals in the laboratory and continue our work trying to rebuild the population."

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