KEY LARGO, Fla. (AP) — Divers in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary have become subsea voyeurs of sorts, witnessing an annual reproductive phenomenon on coral reefs.
Coral spawning occurs in August and September a few days after the full moon. Several dive shops in the Keys coordinate nighttime excursions to witness what many describe as an upside-down underwater snowstorm.
Gametes, or reproductive cells, are released in a synchronized mass-spawning exchange, enabling eggs and sperm to enter the water over a broad geographic area. When egg and sperm unite, newly formed larvae, or planulae, can settle to the bottom to grow into polyps and potentially form coral colonies.
Besides visiting divers, coral scientists are descending on Keys reefs to collect gametes and transport them to shoreside laboratories for research projects.