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Florida Aquarium makes historic breakthrough that could save coral reefs

The aquarium said for the first time ever, Atlantic pillar coral has spawned through lab techniques.

TAMPA, Fla. — The Florida Aquarium says a recent scientific breakthrough could be the key to helping save Florida's coral reefs.

For the first time ever, scientists at the aquarium say endangered Atlantic pillar coral have spawned through laboratory techniques. The aquarium said the breakthrough happened this week at the Center for Conservation lab in Apollo Beach.

Aquarium scientists believe the breakthrough could help save corals in Florida's Reef Tract.

“When history is made, there is hope, and today’s scientific breakthrough by The Florida Aquarium’s team of coral experts gives us real hope that we can save the Florida Reef Tract from extinction,” Roger Germann, The Florida Aquarium President and CEO, said in a release. “And, while many coral experts didn’t believe it could be done, we took that challenge to heart and dedicated our resources and expertise to achieve this monumental outcome. We remain fiercely committed to saving North America’s only barrier reef and will now work even harder to protect and restore our Blue Planet.”

More: Undersea robot tries to save Great Barrier Reef after half its coral dies off

Related: Key West moves to ban sunscreens that could damage reefs

The conservation effort was to get coral sexual reproduction to happen entirely outside of the ocean environment. Scientists used technology to mimic the corals' natural environment by simulating the timing of sunsets, sunrises, moonrises and moonsets to get the animals to spawn.

"The massive and fully synchronized spawning at the Florida Aquarium's Center for Conservation, which occurred exactly at the predicted wild spawning time, indicated perfect aquatic conditions for pillar corals in our Project Coral system," Senior Coral Scientists Keri O'Neil said.

The aquarium said this breakthrough will further the plans to repopulate Florida's coral reefs. Scientists plan to raise the juvenile corals long enough to give them a better chance of survival.

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