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Symbiosis: Coral Reef Conservation

By Dr. Dirk Petersen
min read

Since its inception in 2002, SECORE International has developed into a leading non-profit 501(c)3 for coral reef restoration and conservation.

Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facilities like the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell, Ohio; the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Calif.; the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb.; and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Ill.; have played an important role to get us where we are today.

When Mike Brittsan, who recently retired from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, invited me to speak at the Regional Aquatics Workshop in Sarasota, Fla., in 2004, I was deeply impressed by the interest and motivation of U.S. zoos and aquaria to get involved in SECORE’s work.

This continuously growing partnership has led to scientific breakthroughs such as the first laboratory rearing of the endangered elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), and the first lab-reared elkhorn coral known to have spawned in the wild. I look at this partnership as a “symbiosis” that not only benefits each party, but also contributes to coral reef conservation.

SECORE has provided a professional platform for zoos and aquaria to engage at the forefront of endangered species conservation while developing and sharing tools to sustainably restore coral reefs worldwide. Remarkably, all current members of our Zoo and Aquarium Partnership Program are AZA-accredited facilities.

They provide critical financial support and many join our fieldwork. Our zoo and aquarium partners also contribute with their coral husbandry expertise and educate their visitors through dedicated exhibits featuring SECORE. Some of the organizations that participated in SECORE’s initial workshops such as The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Fla., and the Horniman Museum in the United Kingdom, have gone on to initiate significant coral breeding programs. The California Academy of Sciences (Steinhart Aquarium) initiated their Hope For Reefs initiative, a major five-year investment to explore deep reefs and restore coral reefs, the latter working closely together with SECORE and The Nature Conservancy.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the California Academy of Sciences took the lead, together with five other AZA-accredited facilities (Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium; Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla.; John G. Shedd Aquarium; The Florida Aquarium; Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.; and Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas) to initiate the AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction program for Atlantic Acropora corals. This is an important step to help save these critical reef building species, and to further draw attention to coral reef conservation in the community.

All these examples demonstrate the increasing dedication of AZA member organizations to help save these very precious and critical ecosystems. With its guidelines for in situ conservation, AZA has set the pace, which I believe has greatly contributed to mobilizing U.S. zoos and aquaria for coral reef conservation.

Dr. Dirk Petersen is the founder and executive director of SECORE International, Inc.


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