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Wild News

The Florida Aquarium is Growing Coral!

The Florida Aquarium is Growing Coral!

Me with a fresh clone fragment of a Staghorn Coral!  

Recently I had the opportunity to learn more about The Florida Aquarium’s coral farm! For those who haven’t heard about it, it’s kind of a big deal. Up until recently there was no feasible solution to combat the rapid disintegration of our coral reefs… however, with new genetic discoveries and growth practices, the Aquarium is successfully raising corals that can be out-planted back into the wild!

 The Florida Aquarium, along with its partners, use the Coral Health Certificate to rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce healthy corals back onto degraded reefs. This certificate ensures that reintroduced corals will not introduce disease, compares wild corals to captive corals, identifies specific genes, and establishes protocols to map, relocate and evaluate the health of coral fragments.

So here’s what I learned!

How We Grow Corals Infograph

 How do you raise a coral?

  • Coral Colonies are produced by several methods. These mostly include cloning and sexual reproduction.

  • Cloning (Which is what I learned about and was able to help with!) is the process of trimming off the ends of healthy corals and transplanting the new ends on a small concrete disc. This fragment of coral will become a perfectly new clone with the same genetics as its parent coral, but it will grow nearly three times as fast. This method works especially well with staghorn coral, one of the most endangered corals found on our reefs.

  • Sexual reproduction happens when a small gamete (baby coral) is created during a spawning event in the wild. Some of our researchers take regular trips down to the Florida Keys to gather gametes during such events, and currently The Florida Aquarium is the only facility to have successfully grown an adult coral from a gametes!

     A close up of the Staghorn Coral clone

    Staghorn Coral in Farm Staghorn Coral among other species in the coral farm tank.

    What are the ideal conditions for coral?

    • Corals need just the right conditions to grow. These factors include excellent water quality, plenty of sunlight (but not too much), healthy water movement, and temperatures ranging from 72 - 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

    • Currently, the Florida Keys reef tract is suffering greatly in all of these areas. To combat this issue, The Florida Aquarium is working alongside the Coral Restoration Foundation and many other partners across the country, including other zoos and aquariums, to create genetically stronger corals that have natural resistance to higher temperatures and can withstand a lower quality of water. It’s really quite amazing what science can do!


    Coral Tree A small fish enjoying the new Coral Tree in his exhibit at The Florida Aquarium!

    What are we doing with these corals?

    • Specifically, the Aquarium participates in reef restoration projects that grow corals from gametes and clones. Our team will take periodic trips down to the Florida Keys to transplant our farm raised corals back into reef systems that no longer have living branching or stony corals. This type of coral is the most important because it is the foundation for the rest of the reef!

    Staghorn Coral from our FarmStaghorn Coral grown from our farm planted in an exhibit at The Florida Aquarium to demonstrate the process of planting coral.

     Coral Reefs are in trouble all over the world. These important ocean ecosystems are stressed from many causes, including global climate change, coastal run-off, ship groundings, disease and pollution. To help coral reefs, The Florida Aquarium’s coral farm raises corals in order to create new coral colonies for reef restoration, research and educational exhibits. 

    Visit The Florida Aquarium to learn more about this research and see the coral farm for yourself! Thank you for reading friends, you're awesome! Also, a huge thank you to Shawn O Garner (Sr. Biologist) with The Florida Aquarium for sharing all this research with me so I could share it with you! 


    *Permit Notation* The Florida Aquarium works under a permit regulated by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.



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    Art Reveal: "The Mission"

    Art Reveal:

    "The Mission" - Panoramic for The Florida Aquarium, 11ft x 4ft Acrylic on Canvas


     These works are a window into the world of Florida’s iconic marine life and is meant to epitomize the mission of the Florida Aquarium; which is to entertain, educate and inspire stewardship for our natural environment, and to protect and restore our Blue Planet. Inspired by The Florida Keys, “The Mission” collection currently hangs in the Florida Aquarium's conference room, and acts as a visual reminder for the staff and volunteers as to why they are committed to saving Florida’s disappearing Coast and endangered marine life.

    • The collection includes an 11ft x 4ft panoramic made up of three separate canvases and one stand-alone vertical 3ft x 4ft canvas, all representing endangered and threatened marine life living on Florida’s coast.
    • The panoramic portion of this commission is the largest piece I have worked on to date, consisting of over 120 hours of painting, and days of research on Florida’s Great Barrier Reef, all completed in a three-month timespan.
    • The size of the collection was very important, because the viewer needed to feel as if they were surrounded by the reef, integrated with it, and truly experiencing the rush of standing next to a life sized Octopus, Eel, Sea Turtle and Sand Tiger Shark.


    Panoramic Hung



    • The Florida Aquarium’s dedication to their mission was the initial inspiration for the collection, but it quickly grew into a need to tell the story of our disappearing Great Florida Barrier Reef, the only living reef in the continental United States.
    • The final characters to be painted were based off of The Aquariums most charismatic animals; Flip the Green Sea Turtle, Missy the Sand Tiger Shark, Scylla the Octopus, and the Moray Eel couple who live alongside them. 

    Sand Tiger - Missy

    Sand Tiger Shark

    "Representing these animals and their home; Florida’s Great Barrier Reef, was crucial because they represent one story in Florida’s history, and this story is quickly disappearing."


    The Animals and The Art:

    Moray Eels

    "Moray Eels", 36" x 48" Acrylic on Canvas

    The moray eels, who are peeking out from their home to witness the arrival of an age old nomad, The Green Sea Turtle. Often found as couples, the Moray Eels acts as a clean-up crew for the reef and it’s an amazing experience meeting these curious residents when scuba diving! 


    Green Sea Turtle

    "Green Sea Turtle", 36" x 48" Acrylic on Canvas

    The focus in the central portion of the panoramic is obviously the Sea Turtle, but the key element that needed to be emphasized is the forest of Staghorn Coral that is flourishing throughout the artwork, representing a time when Florida coral reefs teemed with this now highly endangered coral. Currently The Florida Aquarium and The Coral Restoration Foundation are working together to raise Coral in gardens and “Plant” them in the wild to regrow damaged reefs!


    Common Octopus

    "Common Octopus", 36" x 48" Acrylic on Canvas

    With her wild red colors and swirling tentacles, the intriguing Common Octopus completes the panoramic, and inspires a feeling of joy in her movements. With an artistic focus on color, light, and movement, the panoramic represents a pristine and healthy Florida coral environment. With these elements, the collection shares the grandeur of this unique environment and tells the collective story of the reef, in order to preserve and convey its true impression and character.

     Sand Tiger Shark

    "Sand Tiger Shark", 36" x 48" Acrylic on Canvas 

    Separate, but a key character in “The Mission” is the mystifying Sand Tiger Shark. Missy, the shark who inspired this piece, has captivated me since day one at the Aquarium. Feeling a draw to her, she needed to be represented in the most vibrant way possible, with lots of color and a focus on connecting the viewer to her soul through capturing the audience with her eyes. I didn’t want her to look like other common portraits of sharks where they seem mindless, ferocious and almost lifeless. She needed to feel as if she was breathing and looking at you intelligently, reflecting the true character of these beautiful and quite gentle animals.


    Sand Tiger Shark


    Together with the Florida Aquarium, we support the preservation of Wild Florida and the organizations dedicated to educating and protecting our shared heritage in order to defend endangered species like Sea Turtles, preserve historical land and coastline found nowhere else, and to cultivate an even healthier Florida economy based on eco-tourism. We need your help, you who love Florida and her beautiful coast, to keep our paradise clean, safe and preserved so generations to come can enjoy America’s paradise.

    • With the purchase of any "The Mission" collection print, a percentage of the profits will immediately be donated to the Florida Aquarium and help fund initiatives like the Coral Restoration Project in the Keys.
    • To learn more about available prints, please visit the Gallery. Artwork is available as a collection, or as an individual piece.

    Thanks for reading! 


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