Birch Aquarium leads coral conservation - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Birch Aquarium leads coral conservation

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Prized for their beauty and diversity, coral reefs are fascinating and valuable ecosystems, but they are being destroyed at an alarming rate.

Scientists at Birch Aquarium are working to understand the species and help preserve them.

With vibrant natural colors and complex designs, corals are known as "the rainforest of the ocean."

"Corals make up extraordinary biodiversity in coral reef, so they're an incredible part of our wonderful ocean," Birch Aquarium Executive Director Nigella Hillgarth said.

Fernando Nosratpour, curator of Birch Aquarium at Scripps, is our go-to guy for corals.

"So corals are animals, they kind of look like plants.They get a lot of their food from algae that lives in their tissue. That brown color, mostly that's algae that lives inside the coral," he said.

Found in tropical waters around the world, corals are now threatened.

"It's believed 25 percent of reefs are already gone," Nosratpour said.

When stressed by changes in their environment, corals bleach, or lose their natural color.

"Climate change, pollution, runoff -- all of these things affect corals," Nosratpour said.

To help restore and study this species, Birch has been farming corals for years.

"So we take fragments from our corals, basically cut them off, grow them into new colonies and ship them off to other aquariums," Nosratpour explained.

Their care is both an intense and delicate process.

"We need a lot of light, we need clean water, so really good filtration. And corals come where there's a lot of water movement," Nosratpour said.

Corals are manicured so they don't poke or injure one another.

"We've been able to give hundreds of corals to public aquariums and to reseachers," Nosratpour said.

Corals are crucial to the ocean's ecosystem, protecting the coastline and providing homes for marine life.

"We really need to conserve corals and here at Birch Aquarium, we're doing our part," Hillgarth said.

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