Coral sex gets conservationists excited
Monday 30 April 2007
A bit of coral sex at ZSL London Zoo’s aquarium has got conservationists hot under the collar this week. The pink sea fans living in the aquarium at ZSL London Zoo began spawning for the first time, bringing plans to replenish coral stocks in British seas one step closer.
The pink sea fan (Eunicella verrucosa) is a coral native to the UK, and lives on rocky reefs in the South West of Britain and on the western seaboard of Ireland and grows to form colonies up to 80cm high and 100cm across. It is one of the UK’s most spectacular corals, but is severely threatened by water pollution and bottom trawling for fish and scallops.
ZSL is working towards the long term successful spawning, fertilisation and settlement of primary polyps in captivity. If juvenile colonies can be produced in large numbers specific reefs could be re-stocked and carefully managed by conservationists.
Little is known about them or their role in the marine ecosystem but they are considered a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Natural England has funded ZSL, in partnership with The Deep, Hull, to research life history factors such as diet, growth rates, water chemistry preferences and sexual reproduction of the pink sea fans, which is not always possible in the wild.
As well as working directly with wildlife and their habitats in the wild, ZSL also undertakes significant conservation research in our aquarium at ZSL London Zoo.
ZSL’s head aquarium keeper, Brian Zimmerman, said: “It’s a fantastic privilege to be able to see these pink sea fans spawning here at ZSL London Zoo.
“We are still trying working out what triggered the spawning as this process has formerly been one of the secrets of the sea.”
“Aquariums such as that at ZSL have an important role to play in the display of native species and the education of their visiting public. There is a widespread lack of knowledge about the biodiversity in British seas and the coral species are amongst the least known by the general public.”