GBRF article: Heron Island and the “frozen zoo”

Here’s an article published by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation about the recent collaborative expedition to Heron Island.


This article discusses the “frozen zoo” cryobank at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.  It also has the great advantage that it features a photo of our post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Jon Daly!


National Geographic article: GBR conservation work

National Geographic has published an article (link here) about the recent expedition to Heron Island undertaken by Australian researchers and several members of Dr. Mary Hagedorn’s lab.


During the November 2017 spawn, this collaborative team successfully froze sperm from several Great Barrier Reef coral species that were, until now, not represented in the Taronga Zoo’s cryobanks.  A list of new species is available on our frozen banks page.


Dr. Hagedorn interviewed on All Things Marine

Dr. Mary Hagedorn was recently invited to speak on the All Things Marine radio show, which is hosted by Carlie Wiener and sponsored by COSEE Island Earth and the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology.  She and two other guests, Dr. Zac Forsman (Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology) and Dr. Sonia Rowley (Bishop Museum), talk about the future of coral reproduction and conservation.


To listen, please go to the All Things Marine site and scroll down to “Tuesday November 21, 2017 – An In-Depth Look at Corals”, or click play below.



Coral Made from Frozen Sperm in Australia

Our fourth year of field work at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) is winding down. The season was long this year with a split spawn, meaning that the 1st full moon of the Australian summer was very early in November, so the lunar signal that the coral use to time their normally once-yearly spawn was not really clear, so some coral spawned with that 1st full moon and some spawned with the second full moon of the summer in early December. We took a full crew including Dr. Mary Hagedorn, head of Reef Recovery as well as her assistant Ginnie Carter, aquarist Mike Henley and Taronga Conservation Society’s reproductive biologist Rebecca Hobbs for the November spawning event. During that time, we were able to a new species to our frozen bank at Taronga’s Western Plains zoo as well as increase the samples and genetic diversity of 4 other species, bringing our count for Australian species to 7 and our species count worldwide to 11.

Sperm samples being frozen. Photo by V. Carter.

Moving forward from banking material, this year, we made coral larvae from fresh eggs with sperm samples that had been previously frozen, proving the concept of the future uses of our frozen banks. Mike Henley stayed at AIMS through the beginning of December to care for the coral larvae we created as they settled onto tiles in tanks at AIMS. This is a critical period of the coral life cycle in which the coral larvae has to go from swimming about to finding a good place to start laying down their skeleton and growing into what most people think of when they think of a coral, basically, this is the time when they find their permanent home and start to grow. With Mike staying to care for our larvae, he also had the chance to add to their numbers by being at AIMS for the second spawn of the split spawn and creating even more coral larvae from fresh eggs and frozen sperm. Mike will remain at AIMS until December 21st, and then it is our hope that working with AIMS scientists, we can grow some of these coral to maturity.

Mike Henley examining tiles to count settled coral. Photo by R. Hobbs.

Settled juvenile coral that was created using frozen sperm. Photo by M. Henley.

In addition, Rebecca Hobbs worked to create coral embryos from single coral cells. By breaking embryos apart at either the 4 or 8 cell stage of development, each cell that was created is theoretically able to grown into all the cells of a coral, i.e. they are stem cells. Rebecca was able to do this, and from her single cells, she had coral larvae grown, survive and settle. This is important for our work as well, since freezing single coral cells would allow coral to be grown from these cells in the future without the added step of fertilization and need for fresh eggs.

A settled coral grown from a single cell created at the 4-cell stage of embryo development. Photo by M. Henley.

All in all, our fourth year of work in Australia for the Great Barrier Reef spawning event was a great success. We are so happy to add another species to our bank and increase it’s robustness with our other species. We are also so pleased to see our bank working with our settled larvae this year.

AIMS Spawning Success – Australia’s Frozen Bank Continues to Grow

The Reef Recovery team has come together for a second year of spawning for corals from the Great Barrier Reef. Our researchers from the Smithsonian Institution, Taronga Conservation Society and Monash University have joined forces once again with scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) to continue building Australia’s frozen coral bank. AIMS researchers brought several coral species in from the Great Barrier Reef and so far 4 species have spawned, with sperm from two species being added to the bank, along with embryonic cells from one species. We will continue to watch for spawning for the next several nights, as each species spawns at it’s own specific time of the evening, over the course of several days.

Montipora digitata spawning in a tank at AIMS. In the center, you can see one egg/sperm bundle just barely released from a polyp at the center of the photo and one bundle rising through the water column in the upper-right side of the photo. Photo by M. Henley.

AIMS researchers, Dr. Emily Howells and Dr. David Abrego prepping to make coral larvae from freshly spawned eggs and sperm that was frozen last year. Photo by M. Henley.

The New York Times Covers Our Frozen Coral

Check out the Science section of the New York Times today:

Frozen Sperm Offer a Lifeline for Coral

BLIZZARD A colony of elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, spawning in Belize. Coral spawns are poorly understood; many are tied to phases of the moon. Photo by R. Ritson-Williams.

The author, Michelle Nijhuis came out to Hawaii to visit us during spawning last year and then joined us for our crazy trip to Belize. Many thanks to her for writing this story and getting it into the New York Times!

Now You Can Follow Us!

The Reef Recovery Initiative is now on Facebook and Twitter!

We’ll post pictures from the lab and field with updates on our research and what we’ve been up to. This is a great way to keep in touch and be up to date with all we do.

Like us on Facebook!

Follow us on Twitter!

Australia’s Frozen Reef Continue’s to Draw Media Attention

Media coverage of Australia’s frozen coral bank, which was started by the Reef Recovery team last November, continues:

Great Barrier Reef survival frozen in Outback – ABC Radio Australia

Great Barrier Reef hopes on ice in Aussie Outback – My Sinchew

Creation of Australia’s First Frozen Coral Bank

In late November, a few members of the Reef Recovery team met up in Townsville, Australia at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) to begin the creation of a frozen repository for Great Barrier Reef Corals. Dr. Mary Hagedorn and myself, Ginnie Carter, traveled from Hawaii, Mike Henley came from Washington, DC and Dr. Rebecca Spindler came from the Toronga Zoo. AIMS researcher, Dr. Madeleine van Oppen was our gracious host along with many other researchers there.

Acropora tenuis spawns in a tank at AIMS. Photo by M. Henley.

We were able to work on two different species of corals that were brought into the lab and spawned. Australia’s first frozen coral repository was created as we were able to freeze sperm from Acropora tenuis and larval cells from Acropora tenuis and Acropora millepora.

As Acropora tenuis spawns around 9:00pm, Dr. Mary Hagedorn and Ginnie Carter work into the night, cleaning the eggs and sperm for fertilization experiments. Photo by M. Henley.

Press in Australia and around the world took notice of this landmark achievement. You can follow the links below for more on our work at AIMS.

BBC – Great Barrier Reef particles frozen

ABC News – Scientists look to cryogenics to preserve Barrier Reef

The Sydney Morning Herald – Piece of Great Barrier Reef put on ice in frozen zoo

Dr. Rebecca Spindler of the Toronga Zoo shows off a dry shipper full of frozen coral samples that mark the creation of Australia’s first frozen coral repository for the Great Barrier Reef. Photo by M. Hagedorn.

SECORE Adventures in Belize

The Reef Recovery Team has just returned from a field trip to Belize to work on the endangered corals Acropora cervicornis, Staghorn coral and Acropora palmata, Elkhorn Coral.

Our trip was full of drama, but also full of great people and lots of adventure. You can read about our trip here:


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