Divers in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary witnessed one of nature's rare underwater spectacles Monday night off of Key Largo: coral sex.
The exquisitely timed natural phenomenon known as coral spawning occurs only once a year after the full moons of August or September, but it is essential to the continued survival of our coral reefs.
Coral spawning is the reproductive process of coral colonies and many species of coral polyps, in which millions of the organism’s reproductive cells, called gametes, are simultaneously released en masse into the surrounding water.
"It's like a snowstorm with gravity reversed and the snowflakes are miniature peas," underwater photographer Chris Gug told The Associated Press. "It's one of the marvels of the natural world." Check it out:
Once dispersed, the egg and sperm cells unite and form larvae, some of which rises to the ocean surface where they free-float for days or weeks at a time. According to a release from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, other larvae descend to the sea floor where they settle and grow into polyps, potentially forming new coral colonies.
This is good news for the life aquatic, considering a report by an international group of scientists recently concluded that coral reef growth, especially in shallow water like offshore South Florida, has declined by as much as 70 percent.