Annual coral spawning of reefs around the world is something spectacular to witness live. And, until now, you had to be at the right place, at the right time. And underwater. And, almost always, at night. This year, however, anyone with a web-enabled device anywhere in the world will be able to watch the first ever, live streaming of a coral-spawning event. This live streaming will come from the East End of Grand Cayman, and will be featuring a boulder star coral (Montastraea annularis).
This year the spawning is predicted to occur between Tuesday, September 24th and Thursday, September 26th. However, the spawning could happen as early as between Monday, August 26th and Wednesday, August 28th. According to the data collected by Stephen and Alexander, spawning should occur after sunset, 5 days after the full moon.
Starting in 2003, Alexander Mustard and Stephen Broadbelt began collecting data on this species of coral and several other species nearby, including the release that first year of a research paper, and have collected data each year since. This data has helped in the prediction of future spawning dates, however no data has been collected on this particular coral in water this shallow; the coral we will be watching sits in only 7 feet of water. 2013 also presents a challenge due to the timing of the full moons in August and September. In August the full moon occurs three days earlier than the earliest spawning recorded during the 10 years data has been collected near this site. As well, the full moon in September occurs two days later than any recorded over the 10 years. So, for 2013, if the coral spawns in August it will be the earliest recorded spawning in 10 years, and if the coral spawns in September it will be the latest recorded spawning in 10 years. Makes this year pretty exciting all the way around.
The boulder star coral is one of 66 stony corals recently proposed by NOAA for listing on the Endangered Species Act. All seven of the coral species listed for the Atlantic/Caribbean are proposed as endangered. A final decision by NOAA regarding this proposal is planned for the end of 2013. M. annularis is a colony-forming coral, which means that the coral is comprised of numerous genetically identical individuals known as polyps, usually soft-bodied and sedentary, that reproduce by budding. These polyps use their tentacles to bring food into a central mouth to be digested within their sac-like body. As they grow, these polyps secrete calcium carbonate forming a hard exoskeleton that supports and protects their soft bodies. These coral skeletons form the base of the colony on which the living polyps continue to grow, thus contributing over time to the formation of a coral reef.
There are three major cues that are believed to trigger coral spawning: Rise in sea temperature, lunar tidal cycles, and circadian changes in illumination or light. Because these factors vary around the globe, corals spawn at different times of year depending upon their location. Most corals spawn a few hours after sunset; however, there are many species of coral in Hawaii that spawn a few hours after sunrise. There is also a wide variation in how many days after the full moon spawning will take place. Some corals spawn as early as 3-4 days following the full moon, and others as late as 7-11 days prior.
This project was made possible by a collaboration of several groups. Last year, thanks to a generous donation from the Gates Frontier Foundation, Teens4Oceans installed a WGI CleanSweep™ self-cleaning camera system, a science node system, and an autonomous buoy solar and battery-powered system. T4O worked with their partners Wild Goose Imaging, a company that specializes in underwater self-cleaning network cameras and data acquisition systems, Ocean Frontiers, the dive shop located at the Compass Point Dive Resort, and Stephen Broadbelt, Co-Founder and Partner of Ocean Frontiers to complete this part of the project. Most recently, the four lights needed for viewing the coral spawning were donated by Wild Goose Imaging, and additional solar and battery powering systems, and salinity testing instrumentation were made possible thanks to Ocean Classrooms, an online interactive marine science curriculum, and long time partner with both Teens4Oceans and Wild Goose Imaging.
Two of the lights were installed to make viewing of the coral spawning possible, as well as to provide a once a week nightly viewing year round. The two additional lights were installed to conduct coral fluorescence health monitoring research at 405nm and 450nm excitation. This research will focus on comparing fluorescence of the coral in relation to water temperature, pH, and salinity, and other factors such as major weather events.
Don’t miss this opportunity to see a live coral spawning!! And be sure to check out the links to all the great organizations that made this possible. If you would like to see a great video from 2009 of corals spawning at Cayman Islands: