The product of larval culturing is a slow and laborious process. Once a coral's gametes have been fertilized, they enter the free-floating planktonic phase of their life cycle as a planula. These near microscopic planula take several weeks to metamorphize and settle onto the seafloor, or in the case of our larval culturing program, small concrete molds that we've covered in the chemical cues that encourage the coral larvae to recruit to them.
Once the larvae have settled to these concrete molds they're often too difficult to observe with the naked eye, so a microscope is necessary to find out when they've done so. After we've confirmed that they've entered the polyp stage of their life cycle, we can then transplant the concrete molds out onto one of our artificial nurseries, where our little "coral babies" can grow in optimal conditions. After a couple of years, depending on the genus of coral, they'll be roughly the size of a golf ball, and not long after that will they be ready for transplantation to their final resting place, where they'll continue to thrive and grow into healthy, genetically unique colonies that will help spawn the next generation of beautiful coral organisms.
Pictured here are several colonies of Goniastrea edwardsi that were cultured from one of the first efforts of our Larval Culturing Program.