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Scientist's accidental discovery makes coral grow 40x faster

There might be hope for our oceans, thanks to one clumsy moment in a coral tank.

Photo by Preet Gor on Unsplash.
  • David Vaughan at the Mote Laboratory is growing coral 40 times faster than in the wild.
  • It typically takes coral 25 to 75 years to reach sexual maturity. With a new coral fragmentation method, it takes just 3.
  • Scientists and conservationists plan to plant 100,000 pieces of coral around the Florida Reef Tract by 2019 and millions more around the world in the years to come.

The news has not been encouraging as of late if you are one to pay attention to either climate change or The Great Barrier Reef: coral reefs are an incubator of the ocean's ecosystem. They account for less than 1% of the ocean and yet manage to provide food and shelter to over one quarter of all marine species in the ocean, as well as support fish that ultimately feed over one billion people. This is why it was distressing to note — in addition to the world losing Ruth Gates, a scientist renowned for her advocacy for saving coral reefs — that two thirds of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia — the largest living structure in the world — had in effect been killed off as of last year (a process called 'bleaching') by the rise in temperature brought about by global warming and climate change.

This is why it's worth noting and celebrating that Dr. David Vaughan of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida has found a way to make coral grow 40 times faster than coral currently does in the wild.

The Good News Network describes his accidental breakthrough:

"He had been trying to remove a coral from the bottom of a tank when it broke into a dozen pieces. To his shock, all of the pieces regrew to the same size in just three short weeks, as opposed to the three years it had taken to grow the original coral."

It typically takes coral 25 to 75 years to reach sexual maturity. Instead, through a process of 'breaking up' the coral, Doctor Vaughan has seen the timeline shrink to three years and seen results that will lead him to share the information with conservationists all around the world, with the hopes of planting 100,000 pieces of coral around the Florida Reef Tract by 2019 and millions more around the world in the years to come. (You can read about one volunteer's experience assisting with growing and planting coral in Florida with Vaughan here.)

At worst, the method led by Vaughan is something that will buy conservationists more time. At best: this is the beginning of a solution. A former intern of Vaughn's commented on Reddit, adding a very useful note to indicate that Vaughan "has been essentially adjusting the coral frag[ments] to more acidic and warm water to better prepare them for our changing climate." This appears to be what makes the process Vaughan describes unique, as the process of fragmenting coral to encourage growth has been around since at least the 1960s. "This is now a new discovery that can give real hope for our coral reefs that has never been there before," Vaughan said to BBC One. "We tried [this process] with all the other species of corals in the Florida Keys and it works for them all."

The viral video from BBC One has resurfaced this important work — The Atlantic visited Vaughan to highlight his work in 2016 and The New York Times flagged his work in 2014. As Bill Causey — a coral expert — told The New York Times in 2014: "this [the work being done by Vaughan] is easily the most promising restoration project that I am aware of."

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Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Image source: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
  • The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
  • The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
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LGBTQ+ community sees spike in first-time depression in wake of coronavirus​

Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Coronavirus
  • Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
  • Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
  • The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
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The mind-blowing science of black holes

What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.

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  • When it comes to black holes, science simultaneously knows so much and so little, which is why they are so fascinating. Focusing on what we do know, this group of astronomers, educators, and physicists share some of the most incredible facts about the powerful and mysterious objects.
  • A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
  • Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."

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