FLORIDA KEYS — Night divers are to take to Florida Keys reefs for a chance to witness a delicate reproductive phenomenon that occurs when coral polyps release millions of gametes (eggs and sperm) in synchronized mass-spawning rituals. The event is likely to occur around the August and September full moons.
Part of the underwater environment’s sensitive circle of life, the explosion and exchange of gametes into the water means the critical continued survival of coral reefs, including boulder corals like brain and star corals, and branching species of elkhorn and staghorn corals.
During the coral spawn, eggs and sperm enter the water in massive quantities, a milky white excretion that, by nature’s design, covers a broad geographic area to maximize probability of fertilization — while at the same time overwhelming nearby predators with more food than they can consume.
When egg and sperm unite, the newly formed larva or “planula” ascends to free-float in surface currents. Within a matter of days or even weeks, the planulae settle to the bottom to grow into polyps and eventually form coral colonies.
The coral spawn is scientifically observed and documented each year. It is thought to be a correlation between seasonal lunar cycles as well as multiple environmental cues such as water temperatures and tidal and 24-hour light cycles.
Divers interested in the chance to witness this mysterious underwater phenomenon can contact Keys professional dive operators to join coral-spawn night dives scheduled on or after the Aug. 7 and Sept. 6 full moons.
Florida Keys diving information: fla-keys.com/diving
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS