The Greatest Coral Show in Florida

By: Terry Gibson

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It might take a little luck or persistence, but divers and snorkelers visiting the Florida Keys in the late summer have a strong chance of seeing one of the most wondrous underwater phenomena: the coral spawn. Click here to watch a video of a spawn.

The coral reefs in the Florida Keys are just a short boat ride offshore and are easily accessed. The dives are shallow, and don’t require a great deal of skill. You just have to be OK with diving at night, which is actually a blast. Besides seeing the coral spawn, you often see a whole suite of species that hide during the daylight.

Typically, the coral spawn happens on or around the full moons of August and September. That’s when boulder corals such as brain corals and branching corals including staghorn coral release millions of gametes (eggs and sperm) in this mass, synchronized event, one that means the continued survival of coral reefs.

What triggers this event remains unclear, though scientific observations indicate a strong connection between the coral spawn and seasonal lunar cycles as well as multiple environmental cues such as water temperature, tidal and 24-hour light cycles.

Though the polyp release cannot be guaranteed to happen on the exact date, the 2012 late summer full moons fall on Wednesday, Aug. 1; Friday, Aug. 31, and Saturday, Sept. 29. You’re really likely to be one of the few who have witnessed this sublime event if you plan dives for each evening, as well as on the evenings a few days before and after the full moons.


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