"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

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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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