Natural coral reproduction is an incredible occurrence. This phenomenon is affected by the local sun and moon cycles, in addition to ocean temperature. Most coral colonies spawn once per year, and release billions of colorful gametes into the ocean. In order for fertilization to occur, corals must release their gametes in perfect synchrony. Here, we explore the process that makes natural coral reproduction possible.

Factors that Signal Corals to Spawn

Coral colonies have the greatest chance of successfully spawning if they release their gametes when other colonies are also spawning. This is due to the increased possibility of a gamete coming into contact with another gamete, and the lower probability of predation (safety in numbers). Further, environmental factors, like the strength of the tide, play a major role in successful spawning. For example, during periods of lower tidal motion, the amount of time a gamete has to come in contact with another gamete is much higher. These environmental forces have brought about an amazing synchrony in spawning events. This process relies on a delicate balance of natural forces. Cues for coral to release gametes include lunar and solar cycles, as well as sea surface temperature (SST). In the past, it was extremely difficult to pinpoint when corals would spawn. However, methods of predicting this occurrence in many species is improving.

Climate change continues to be a cause for concern when it comes to the health of reefs across the globe. However, recent studies suggest that many species of coral might be able to adapt to their environment’s new normal. While sun and moon cycles are certainly important in triggering coral reproduction, scientists have begun to understand the dominant influence that sea surface temperature (SST) plays in signaling coral mass spawning events. Although the temperature of the ocean continues to rise, this may not have a detrimental effect on coral reproduction initially feared. The most recent research suggests that an increase in SST is what cues coral to spawn, and increases in ocean temperature are likely to continue at predictable intervals throughout the year.

Temperature shifts and the amount of light that coral receives aren’t the only factors to consider during reproduction–this occurrence requires an enormous amount of energy, so corals must also be well fed for spawning to be successful. Although we’re still in the process of learning more about the reproduction process, new research suggests a reason to be optimistic for the future of our world’s coral reefs. Predicting when corals are ready to spawn will have a positive effect on coral management and dive tourism. Having a reliable prediction of when corals will release gametes could help governments halt detrimental actions like dredging during this delicate time, leading to flourishing reef populations.

Natural reproduction of coral is an amazing occurrence, and you can take these principles into account when breeding coral via asexual reproduction as well. Regardless of how coral reproduces, it’s essential for them to have the right balance of light in order to thrive. If you’re a reefkeeper in search of a premium reef lighting system, peruse our two generations of products. Each offers powerful and programmable LED lighting, and can be accessed via mobile app so you can always keep a close eye on your aquarium. We back our products with a three-year warranty, so you can feel confident that your new lighting system will go the distance. To learn more about our products, please visit us online.