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"If we don't do something," says Knowlton, who has earned the nickname Dr. Doom, "we could lose all corals by 2050." (Christian Ziegler)

A Coral Reef's Mass Spawning

Understanding how corals reproduce is critical to their survival; Smithsonian's Nancy Knowlton investigates the annual event

By the third day, the suspense is building. "It will happen," Knowlton barks at lunch, pounding her fists on the table. As her plate rattles, a smile spreads across her face.

Sure enough, the coral colonies start spawning around 8:20 p.m. The tiny tapioca-like sacs, about two millimeters in diameter, rise in unison, slowly drifting to the surface. For the few minutes that they are suspended in the water, I feel like I'm swimming in a snow globe.

"To me, coral spawning is like a total eclipse of the sun," Knowlton says. "You should see it once in your life."

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