The gorgonian coral is invaluable to the marine ecosystem. To ensure the conservation of this coral species at the Punta de Tarifa, Spanish scientists will transplant coral colonies on the sea floor.
Contrary to what many people believe, coral does not belong to the plant but the animal kingdom. Coral forms an undersea forest that provides protection and a breeding ground for numerous animal species. To protect this important ecosystem, a research project is underway by the University of Seville, supported by the Fundación Biodiversidad of the Ministry of Ecological Transition.
Using a technique that is a cross between surgery and gardening, the aim is to restore the coral colonies at Tarifa. These slow-growing animals (they grow an inch per year) are extremely vulnerable to the effects of global warming, seawater pollution and the proliferation of algae species in the sea. For example, an Asian algae species stops the coral from feeding as it spreads over the coral’s entire surface.
Researchers from the University of Barcelona and the Institute of Marine Science have calculated the heat waves in the Mediterranean have reduced the number of coral colonies in some areas by 93%.
To expand the coral forest in the sea, scientists carry out transplants of the marine colonies. For this, healthy fragments of the existing specimens are placed on an artificial substrate. Subsequently, the fragments reproduce themselves and divers place the new colonies back in the seabed.
It is being investigated whether another method can be applied in the future. That would involve placing the coral larvae in favourable soil for further growth. This should create an undersea garden that is varied and resilient. Without intervention, many of the coral larvae now die off before they are able to settle in the soil. The larvae that do manage to reach the bottom grow extremely slowly into complete coral reefs.
Impulse for diving tourism
The most common gorgonian coral in the Mediterranean is the white Eunicella singularis. It lives at a depth of 10 to 50 meters on a rocky seabed. The recovery of these coral colonies also means the recovery of various fish species in the area. Not only does it help the ecosystem but makes it more attractive for diving tourism.