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Spy on the Private Lives of Coral

By Vanessa Wolf

Rice coral spawning. Photo courtesy Pauline Fiene.

Rice coral spawning. Photo courtesy Pauline Fiene.

Beginning this Thursday, July 11, the Maui Ocean Center will be offering a new evening series.

Entitled “Night at the Reef,” the first is focused on the mysterious world of coral reproduction.

You may have just read that sentence and thought, “mysterious word of coral production? What’s so mysterious about that?” but seriously: suspend your disbelief. It actually sounds more intriguing than you might at first imagine.

From 7:30 – 9:30 p.m. guests can take advantage of this rare opportunity to visit the aquarium exhibits after dark under the light of a new moon with the opportunity to observe live rice coral spawning.

Rice coral (montipora sp.) was named for the projections on the surface that look like grains of rice standing on end. Rice coral’s sexual reproduction is linked to the lunar cycle, and spawning generally occurs a few days after the new moon in the summer months and the process is visible to the naked eye.

During the spawning, all of the polyps (the tiny, cylindrical animals) simultaneously release bundles containing both egg and sperm.

The bundles float to the surface, and after 20 to 60 minutes, they break apart and clouds of sperm are released. After fertilization, eggs become free-swimming larvae called planulae. Though most planulae do not survive this phase, some will settle on a hard surface and establish a whole new colony.

Mildly obscene in a sea life kind of way? Perhaps.

Nature bringing its badass A-Game? Definitely.

During “Incredible Corals” guests will interact with Maui Ocean Center’s knowledgeable divers, aquarists, ocean naturalist and renowned experts in the field along with volunteers from local eco-organizations.

Corals spawn in response to multiple environmental, biological and physical cues; while live coral spawning is expected to occur the night of the event, Mother Nature is an unruly woman. She cannot be controlled and the activities cannot be guaranteed.

That stated, the aquarium will be presenting video footage of live coral spawning along with the chance/hopes the live and in-person stuff will get down as well.

Either way, they will deliver the coral spawning goods.

In addition, there will be a presentation by Coral Reef Biologist Dave Gulko with the Department of Land and Natural Resources and all aquarium exhibits will be open for viewing during Night at the Reef: Incredible Corals.

With this program, visitors will be offered the unique opportunity to visit the aquarium after the sun sets. The transition from day to night is a fascinating time on the reef, as certain animals, such as lobsters, octopus and white tip reef sharks, may come out of their daytime hiding places and become more active, while other animals find a place to settle in for the dark hours.

Some animals, like the brightly colored butterfly fish, even darken their colors with the changing light conditions.

Admission is $28 for adults and $23 for children ages 3-12, with discounts for members and kama’aina with valid ID.

Maui Ocean Center will donate a portion of the proceeds from Night at the Reef: Incredible Corals to Project S.E.A.-Link, a local non-profit organization based in Maui.

Project S.E.A.-Link was founded in 1999 with a mission to promote marine science, education, and awareness by providing a link between students, teachers, scientists, the local community, the general public, other nonprofit organizations, and governmental agencies.

Their goals are to encourage and inspire the next generation of marine scientists, educators and stewards of the ocean environment; to support the inquiry-based reform in science education; and to promote conservation and stewardship in order to preserve and protect marine resources.

Complimentary coffee, juice, and tropical iced tea will be available and heavy pupus and snacks will be available for purchase. There will also be a cash bar.

Advance reservations are recommended as space is limited for the event.

To reserve, call (808) 270-7088.

Have an idea for a fun or thought-provoking story or topic? Get in touch: we want to hear from you. -Vanessa (@mauinow.com)

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