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The Waikiki Aquarium's Coral Collection
The Waikiki Aquarium has one of the largest coral collections in the world. Here’s why.
In many parts of the world, coral is now endangered or severely threatened,” says Waikiki Aquarium director Andrew Rossiter. Hawaii’s corals are not currently considered endangered, but damage to them is progressing due to factors such as global warming, marine activities and sedimentation.
For this reason, Waikiki Aquarium is growing more than 127 species from the South Pacific and Hawaii. Think of the collection as an insurance policy of healthy coral, just waiting to be reintroduced into the wild if a species goes extinct.
The program began in 1978, when Waikiki Aquarium biologists discovered a way to keep coral alive while in captivity. (The system the aquarium pioneered mimics the ocean, but in a tank: water flows in all directions, and artificial light simulates the wavelength of sunshine). Today, the technology is used worldwide.
How researchers get the coral is a delicate endeavor. “We locate a large colony, say about four feet by four feet,” explains Rossiter. “The coral has all these tiny little fingers on it, most of them about 2-inches long. We remove a finger, put it in an egg crate, then put it inside an incubation tank where it’s given ideal conditions to grow.” The cutting doesn’t hurt the coral. The finger usually replaces itself in about two weeks.
On the aquarium’s lawn, an exhibit called the Coral Farm demonstrates the growing process. A few years ago, coral in the tank grew so large that fish in the exhibit became cramped
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