Dr. David Vaughan works in his laboratory. It is located at Mote Tropical Research Centre in Florida, in the United States. Dr. Vaughan’s laboratory is not a small room like other laboratories. He works outside by the ocean. Vaughan is a marine biologist. He works with very small creatures that live in the sea. People may not think this work is very important. But Dr. Vaughan has a question for such people. He asks:
“Do you like to breathe?”
All life on earth depends on life in the ocean. Human activities have been destroying ocean life for many years. But now there is some good news for the oceans. Today’s Spotlight is on Dr. Vaughan’s work with underwater animals called corals.
Many people think that coral is a plant or a shell. But corals are small animals that live under the ocean. These animals group together. They create beautiful shells made of minerals. This shell can grow in many colours and shapes. It can look like a wrinkled brain or a cabbage. It can even look like a tree or grow into tall, round pillars.
Many coral shells together are called a coral reef. Reefs are found in more than 100 countries around the world. The largest and most famous is the Great Barrier Reef. It is off the north-eastern coast of Australia. This reef is thousands of kilometres long. Coral reefs can be large but they are also very delicate – it is easy to destroy them.
A lot of the world’s coral has died. This is mostly because of changes in the environment. People pollute the water and cause changes to the oceans. Rising carbon dioxide levels are making the ocean hotter and more acidic. People also overfish – they catch and remove the fish that support coral.
The World Resources Institute did a study of coral reefs in 2011. They found that 60 percent of the world’s coral reefs are threatened. And they think that by 2030 more than 90 percent will be in danger.
This would be very bad for the earth. Coral reefs are not just beautiful underwater areas. They are also homes for thousands of different species of creatures. This includes many kinds of fish, plants, and other underwater animals.
Reefs are important to land too. Corals provide a barrier for many coastlands. Reefs protect land from high water and strong winds. They can stop damaging forces before they hit the coast.
And reefs are good for people too. Recently, scientists have found that parts of coral can be used to treat diseases such as cancer, arthritis, asthma, and heart disease.
Finally, Creatures on land – including humans – need underwater creatures like coral to be able to breathe. The plants in the ocean produce most of the world’s oxygen gas. These plants depend on coral for protection and particular chemicals.
Scientists like David Vaughan have worked for decades to find ways to protect the coral reefs. Vaughan is over 60 years old. He has seen the coral reefs decrease over his lifetime. This made him very sad. But one day, he discovered something new to him. It was a very simple technology. And it changed everything for him. In a video published by The Atlantic, Dr. Vaughan said:
“Ten years ago I was planning to work for two more years. But when we saw that there was this new technology for restoration, I had to stay working until it was done.”
The new technology that Dr. Vaughan discovered is called “micro-fragmentation”. This technology works with micro-fragments – very small broken-up pieces. Scientists break the corals into small pieces. The coral grows very quickly using its own natural healing process. Using micro-fragmentation, corals grow 25 to 50 times faster than they would in other situations.
Dr. Vaughan discovered this process accidentally. One day he broke an old piece of coral apart. He thought it would die but it did the opposite! Vaughan told the Herald Tribune about it.
“I picked up the coral, expecting to see it was worse. But it had completely grown over a hole the size of a large coin. From birth, it took that coral two years to grow to that size and it had grown back in two weeks.”
Dr. Vaughan’s team is now producing thousands of corals by micro-fragmentation. They work mostly with the coral in Florida Reef Tract, on the south-eastern coast of the US. They grow the coral in large tanks of water in his research laboratory. Then they put them back into the ocean. They attach the new corals to old corals that have died. Some of the new planted coral has died. But most of it continues to grow. And Dr. Vaughan and his team are learning more every day about how to make the new coral successful.
These fast growing corals are an amazing new hope for oceans. But Dr. Vaughan himself also brings hope. Many people who are Dr. Vaughan’s age stop working and retire. But he is continuing to work. Lindsay Arick works with Dr. Vaughan. She talked to the AARP – an organization in the United States for people over 50 years old. In a video, she said:
“Dr. Vaughan has seen the coral reef destroyed even more than any of us has. He saw it when it was beautiful. Now I may see it when I am Dr. Vaughan’s age the way he saw it when he was my age! So we are going to switch the generations. I can finally see what the reef looked like 60 years ago compared to now.”
Dr. Vaughan says that he will not stop working until there are a million corals back on the reef. He thinks this can be done in three to five years. He tells the AARP why he thinks his method will be successful. He says:
“People think that we have ruined this planet with technology. But with technology we can bring it back.”
- marine biologist
- made of mineral
- wrikled brain
- coral reef
- carbon dioxide
- heart disease