Project Coral

Project Coral is an innovative coral reproductive research project led by the Horniman Aquarium with international partners to develop techniques to stimulate coral reproduction.

Did you know that 60% of the world’s coral reefs may die within the next 20 years?

Coral reefs are one the most biologically diverse habitats on earth, taking up less than 0.1% of the ocean floor they are home to 25% of all marine life.

An estimated 800 million people globally have some level of dependency on these valuable ecosystems too, so the damage happening to the reefs is affecting livelihoods, as well as countless species in our oceans.

Why has this happened?

Overfishing, pollution, climate change with its ensuing ocean acidification, have pushed reefs to the brink of collapse. Consequently over 30% of the world’s reefs are considered seriously damaged and 60% may die within the next 20 years. The need for research into coral reproduction is therefore of paramount importance.

So what can we do about it?

We want to develop this world-leading scientific research for real-world ecological benefit. Through our work, we will: 

  •  Save endangered corals
  •  Secure the world’s coral reefs
  •  Further sustainability of the trade
  •  Train conservationists

That’s where Project Coral comes in:

The Horniman Aquarium has been pioneering research into developing techniques to stimulate coral sexual reproduction, and became the first institution globally to successfully induce predictable broadcast coral spawning as well as the first successful in-vitro fertilisation of captive corals in the UK.

Our breakthrough of controlled captive coral spawning will support coral research facilities all over the world, by opening up opportunities to examine the effects of climate change, aid restoration of the reefs and support sustainable livelihoods.

We Need Your Support

Project Coral depends on the support of our partners and dedicated individuals to carry out this vital work. With your help, we can expand our studies to develop a Northern latitude reef and Southern Latitudinal reef, allowing the study of a broader spectrum of environmental conditions that play a role in inducing coral reproduction.

Donate now and help us to save our coral reefs!

Our Progress to Date

The Horniman Aquarium became the first institution globally to purposefully reproduce broadcast coral in captivity in 2013. 

Nine corals, transplanted from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 2015, have spawned nearly 130,000 eggs at the Horniman, resulting in a UK first – the successful in-vitro fertilisation of captive corals.

This video shows the spawning – watch the film:

Our Approach

In the purpose-built aquarium laboratories at the Horniman, Project Coral uses microprocessor technologies to investigate the influences of the lunar cycle, diurnal changes, seasonal temperature changes, solar irradiation patterns and nutritional input on gamete (egg and sperm) production and release.

Small Organisation, Big Aims

We have made huge progress, especially in light of our small size and limited resources. Project Coral employs a small team and works in collaboration with international partners including the  SECORE Foundation (Germany) and S.E.A. Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa (Singapore). Our work will enable us:

  • To assess the impact that climate change is having on the resilience of broadcast corals and their ability to reproduce.
  • To use sexual reproduction to develop viable techniques for the sustainable aquaculture of coral.
  • To develop protocols to reliably spawn broadcast coral in captivity.

A Breakthrough

Along with researchers from the University of Derby, the team at the Horniman have induced coral spawning over a full reproductive cycle for the first time by successfully maintaining the environmental conditions of coral reef environments in closed system aquariums.

By replicating the environmental conditions, including temperature, lunar, and migration cycles, found at the location of the parent colonies of the Horniman’s corals, the team has been able to synchronise coral spawning to be simultaneous with that of the parent colony.

With the Horniman now able to accurately predict and induce spawning in captive corals, the Florida Aquarium will adopt these techniques and practices to reproduce coral on a greater scale.   

Find out more about our Aquarium Curator Jamie’s research.

Other successes include finding that keeping baby sea urchins alongside juvenile corals boosts coral survival rates. The urchins are small enough to graze algae from the corals without damaging them – so now we breed sea urchins as well.

Aquarium Curator Dr Jamie Craggs’ home coral spawning lab is a world first, where Homophyllia australis, an endemic species to Australia was successfully spawned and samples were taken to document the embryological development of this species for the first time. A paper is now being produced for publication.