Using this critically endangered species as a model and bringing together a diverse range of researchers from very different fields, we aim to develop a conservation framework for assessing the threats to corals and other marine fauna globally.
We will participate in the most comprehensive high-resolution photographic survey to date of reefs in the region, using the latest techniques in automated image analysis to find these elusive coral species. Small samples will be carefully taken and used for genetic analyses to investigate how closely related these individuals are to each other, and how far their larvae might disperse. These genetic data will also be compared with that from archive specimens stored in the Natural History Museum in London and collected a century ago, when the global climate was quite different to that today. This could reveal how corals adapt to our changing oceans.
Timing our fieldwork around the Full Moon, we will also harvest larvae from these spawning corals, in a region where corals have never before been seen to reproduce. These larvae will be reared to adulthood in aquaria, potentially one day to restore them back to the reefs of the Indian Ocean. Alongside the banking of coral samples, the aquarium programme offers a new opportunity to protect this species from extinction. Should we be successful, we anticipate that other global coral species will benefit from this fundamental work.