FLORIDA KEYS (CBS4/FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU) – Divers in the Florida Keys have become subsea voyeurs of sort, witnessing a fascinating yet fragile annual reproductive phenomenon on coral reefs.

Coral spawning occurs in August and September a few days after the full moon.

A coral head off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary releases gametes late Monday, Aug. 27, 2013, during an annual ritual called coral spawning that provides coral reefs the opportunity to reproduce. Photo by Frazier Nivens, Florida Keys News Bureau.

A coral head off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary releases gametes late Monday, Aug. 27, 2013, during an annual ritual called coral spawning that provides coral reefs the opportunity to reproduce. Photo by Frazier Nivens, Florida Keys News Bureau.

Continued survival of coral reefs around the world is dependent upon the reproductive strategy among boulder corals like brain and star corals, as well as elkhorn and staghorn branching corals.

Millions of gametes, or reproductive cells, are released underwater in a synchronized mass-spawning exchange, enabling the eggs and sperm to enter the water over a broad geographic area to maximize the chances of fertilization.

When egg and sperm unite, newly formed larvae, or planulae, ascend to the surface to free-float in the current for days or sometimes weeks. Some planulae settle to the bottom to grow into polyps and potentially form coral colonies.

In the Keys, a number of dive shops stage special trips to view the spectacle that many describe as an “upside-down underwater snowstorm.”

Source: The Florida Keys News Bureau

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