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Florida Keys Annual Coral Spawning

Photo: Frazier Nivens/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO

One of the most spectacular but little known events along the Florida reefs—as well as around the world—is the annual synchronized spawning of corals.

Yes, corals do have sex to reproduce and to observers it looks like a brilliant underwater fireworks display.  In the middle of the night several days after the August 29th full moon, Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventures Dive Center in Tavernier will provide divers with a front reef seat to watch this mass reproduction.

The mass reproduction involves colonies and species of coral polyps simultaneously releasing millions of tiny egg and sperm bundles from their gut cavity into the water.

Many are immediately consumed by marauding schools of shiny silver pilchards– hence the fireworks effect. And the swarming pilchards attract larger predators such as barracuda and tarpon to the fray. The lucky coral gametes that manage to survive the fish fest fertilize one another to create larvae, which eventually settle to the bottom to form new coral reefs.

According to NOAA, most scientists agree that these mass spawning events are designed to allow genetic mixing and dispersal of offspring over large distances.  And, the sheer volume of the events allow for the fertilization and survival of a significant number of larvae despite the best efforts of predators.

However, it’s never a sure thing where Mother Nature is involved; the annual spawning is triggered by various cues that are not well understood such as lunar cycle, water temperature and tides.  But the good news is that scientists correctly forecast that staghorn coral would spawn the first week of August– and they did on Aug. 5 in the Coral Restoration Foundation’s nursery off the Upper Keys.  Scientists and dive operators are hopeful that the larger mountainous species such as brain and star corals — which put on a much better show than the staghorn–should do the deed as predicted just before Labor Day Weekend.

For more information on the Coral Spawning Dive Adventure, click here.

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