September 12, 2012

Reef Check Spotlight: Synchronized Coral Spawning in the Red Sea


By Dr. Mohammed M. A. Kotb, Assoc. Prof. of Coral Reef Ecology, Marine Science Dept., Suez Canal University, Egypt & Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director

Dr. Mahmoud Hanafy and Dr. Mohammed Kotb (from the scientific research team of the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA)), along with two researchers from the Nature Conservation Sector of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), Mr. Tamer Moner and Mr. Islam El Sadek, had the opportunity to study and record a remarkable synchronized spawning involving different species of the branched hard corals Acropora. This event occurred during the first week of May 2012, and is considered the first full scientific observation ever recorded in the Egyptian Red Sea. Mass spawning is an event of synchronized reproduction as described in the mid-1980s, and it aims to maximize chances of fertilization: the coral colonies release their gametes (eggs and sperm) into the water simultaneously in large quantities and over a very limited time interval; the coordination of the release being dependent on environmental, biological and chemical factors.

This event is known to occur only in tropical areas and is usually associated with the full moon. Information on this phenomena available from the Egyptian Red Sea is a result of a decade of studies carried out by various researchers and institutes. This data was collected and analyzed by a HEPCA team, who came to the conclusion that the mass spawning takes place either two days before or after the full moon, usually in the period between the 20th of April and the 6th of May.


Their conclusion was correct: a unique and remarkable mass release of gametes from more than 12 species of the hard corals Acropora took place on Thursday the 3rd and Friday the 4th of May 2012 in the Hurghada area. And there is something more: the HEPCA team’s genuine excitement in witnessing this phenomenon can possibly be shared as- and this is the real breakthrough- recorded video.

Besides the undeniable value of disclosing a fascinating ecological process in front of our eyes, the scientific significance of such a record can greatly contribute towards preparing and implementing integrated environmental management plans for the preservation of the marine environment. The sector of coral reef rehabilitation would benefit from it too; perhaps finding new resources to intervene on the deteriorated coral reefs of Hurghada, heavily impacted by unregulated coastal development. Finally, with a close collaboration between environmental organizations, agencies and the tourism sector, our divers could even be among the first to be offered the possibility to observe the event live underwater.

In conclusion, if you were in the area at the time and concerned about the fact that the sea was clouded by an unidentified reddish substance, you now know there was no reason to worry. On the contrary, celebrate the magnificent natural event you had a glimpse of. As usual, we call upon the community to respect coral reefs by adopting proper behaviours and to report to HEPCA any violations to national and regional regulations you may witness at sea.

In related news, Dr. Ruben Torres of Reef Check Dominican Republic sent us a link to video of Montastrea coral spawning on September 6th in La Caleta MPA, Dominican Republic.