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Paul G. Allen Family Foundation: saving our coral reefs


Our Global Alliance is a network of global organisations committed to environmental action who share the ambition of The Prize to repair the planet, as well as academic and non-profit institutions and private sector alliances from around the world. Our Global Alliance and nominators are a key part of Earthshot, and as such, their news is great news for the environment and something we look forward to sharing on a regular basis.

This week, our Global Alliance Founding Partner, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, talk about the importance of our coral reefs and the work being done to save them.

Our oceans are in jeopardy. In the last 50 years, half of the world’s coral reefs have died due to climate change and growing local pressures.

Coral reefs underpin the safety, culture, food, and economic security of almost one billion people and experts warn that warming temperatures could lead to the death of all coral reefs by the end of the century.

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is committing more than $7 million toward research helping to provide solutions to repair and preserve our oceans for future generations to come. From scanning our oceans for resilient corals, manipulating epigenetics to helping baby coral survive, a global team of scientists are researching and implementing innovative solutions to revive our oceans.

Super Corals and How They Survive the Impact of Climate Change 

Right now, Dr Christian Voolstra and a team of global scientists are searching our oceans for naturally resilient coral reefs, with two extraordinary characteristics: they can cope with rising ocean temperatures and repair from ocean warming.

Once the heat-tolerant corals are found, an 18-hour process begins where the researchers expose fragments of the coral to varying temperatures to see which colonies are resilient to higher temperatures. These “climate change survivors” have the potential to improve the resilience of their species and the survival of the next generation, as well as providing valuable insight into the coral colonies that need to be prioritised for conservation and restoration.

Accelerating the natural evolution of heat resilient corals to revive our oceans

Dr Madeline van Oppen and the late Dr Ruth Gates, pioneered and coined human-assisted evolution of corals. Their research has helped to show that by manipulating the epigenetics of coral, they can help coral reefs cope with the impact of climate change. From selective breeding to environmental conditioning, there are a range of techniques that can be used to speed up the evolutionary processes in coral colonies.

Revolutionary research from Van Oppen’s team shows that a single cell within coral, called algal symbionts, could be the key to their survival. By conditioning these symbionts to withstand greater temperatures and reintroducing them to corals, early findings suggest that this increases a coral’s heat tolerance. In the next phase of this research, these corals will be transplanted in the field for the first time ever, with the hope that new, heat-tolerant coral will breed.

In Hawaii, Dr Crawford Drury’s team are continuing Dr Gate’s legacy, finding heat-resilient corals, breeding them in the lab and testing their ability to withstand anticipated future climate conditions. This is a historic moment for ocean restoration, as it’s the first time results from selective breeding in the field will be monitored, providing crucial research and solutions to revive our oceans.

Repairing our Oceans by Increasing the Survival Rate of Baby Coral

From disease to stress, predators to dominating seaweed, there are many factors that contribute to juvenile coral dying just weeks or months after spawning.

To help to tackle this, Professor Peter Harrison and his team are researching whether weeding reefs could help baby coral survive. There are promising early results that show that by clearing excess seaweed, baby coral has a higher survival rate.

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