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Executive Summary for November 3rd

In our weekly roundup, we look at scientists who are freezing coral sperm to save species, a new report for investors that evaluates the fishing practices of seafood companies, and how global warming could hurt a crucial ocean microbe.

Published on Nov. 3, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

An IVF Clinic for Corals

There’s new hope for the future of corals, and it involves a sperm bank.

For years, a group of scientists led by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Mary Hagedorn have been pioneering cryopreservation methods to create repositories of frozen coral sperm and larval cells.

In the future, they believe these genetic stockpiles could be used to inject diversity into struggling coral populations, help reefs evolve to live in warmer oceans or even bring extinct species back to life.

But before making promises, scientists still needed to make sure they could use these frozen samples to artificially inseminate corals on a large scale and that the offspring would grow up healthy. This week, researchers working in the United States and Australia reported results toward that end in the journal Scientific Reports. In a news release, Hagedorn called the experiment the “first major step from a laboratory setting toward getting corals out on the reef.”

The experiments showed that successful larvae could be produced from frozen sperm in bulk, though fertilization could be hit or miss. Importantly, the study also found these larvae continued to do well right up through their “juvenile” stage – the time at which they settle down in one place after their wilder, free-swimming phase.

The next step for the research, says Hagedorn, is to do similar work in an ocean nursery setting. She hopes to have thousands of in-vitro-fertilized coral growing in five years.

Are You Invested in Companies Overfishing the Seas?

Shareholders can be powerful forces for environmental sustainability in the corporate world, which is why a new initiative called Fish Tracker has attempted to rate the practices of 228 major public companies involved in seafood production.

There was just one problem: Few firms disclosed enough information to evaluate their activities.

The Fish Tracker Initiative, which is run by Investor Watch in collaboration with Sea Around Us and Asia Research and Engagement, argues that overfishing is more than just bad for the oceans. It’s also a financial risk for investors, because a seafood company’s stock could collapse along with fish stocks. However, only 16 percent of firms the group surveyed disclosed where they got their fish, making it hard to assess overfishing risks.

The report’s authors did piece together data to determine that about one-third of fish stocks targeted by the 19 largest fishing companies, like Canada’s Clearwater Seafoods and South Korea’s Dongwon Industries, were overfished, among other findings. Next, they aim to engage with large investment firms on these issues.

A Key Marine Microbe Can’t Stand the Heat

As oceans warm and acidify, the microbes that form the base of marine ecosystems – and often play a role in the global carbon cycle – are being thrown off their game.

The latest example is a laboratory study from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory that spells trouble for Prochlorococcus, the most abundant photosynthetic microorganism in the sea.

Prochlorococcus thrives with the help of another microbe, Alteromonas, which has a key enzyme that the former lacks. However, when researchers grew both microbes under the higher atmospheric carbon dioxide conditions predicted for the end of the century, the pair began to have a more “antagonistic” relationship, the study found, putting stress on the Prochlorococcus cells and reducing their survival prospects.

The authors said the study shows that computer models that simulate climate change scenarios don’t yet fully consider the complex species relationships that are going to shape the planet’s future.

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