Coral research provides a wave of optimism for marine life

The coral project research team led by Feng Qiwei, after more than 10 years of diligent work, has solved the technical bottleneck of large-scale coral artificial reproduction.


Feng Qiwei's "coral factory" has become a colorful "underwater world", in which the transparent glass tanks are lined up to form a closed and circulating water system. [Photo by WU JIANXUN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

May 31, 2022

BEIJING – Coral is the genie of the sea. In the 1960s, the classic opera Red Coral made a splash across the nation with its melodic theme song Ode to Coral, and the romantic lyrics, “red flowers shine on the blue sea”, have overwhelmed countless young people to appreciate the beauty of coral.

As an integral part of the marine ecological system, coral reefs are dubbed “tropical rainforests” of the ocean. However, in recent years, due to climate warming, acidification, pollution, and overharvesting, more than one-third of the world’s coral reef ecosystems have been severely degraded.

Scientists have called on the public to protect corals. In some of China’s offshore waters, corals are also facing a crisis of survival, as the difficulty in large-scale artificial breeding of corals is a worldwide problem.

On the south bank of Taihu Lake in Zhejiang province, the coral project research team led by Feng Qiwei, after more than 10 years of diligent work, has successfully solved the technical bottleneck of large-scale coral artificial reproduction, in a controllable circulating water environment. In 2021, the number of their live coral seedlings grew from about 8,000 to more than 30,000, and the survival rate remained above 90 percent.

Feng Qiwei watches the growth of the corals. He treats these coral seedlings as his own children. [Photo by WU JIANXUN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

In this “coral factory”, the transparent glass tanks are lined up to form a closed and circulating water system. The blue light filtering through the water adds a touch of mystery. Tropical fish of various colors, marine animals and plants such as corals and seaweed enhance each other’s beauty, presenting a colorful “underwater world”.

Feng, 35, is the inventor of this “microbial water quality treatment and culture technology” and the technical director of the coral artificial breeding project. Interestingly, he chose to conduct a large-scale breeding experiment in marine ecology by the Taihu Lake, and build a multilevel marine ecosystem through the symbiosis of fish, coral, algae and other microorganisms.

“I liked chemistry in high school, so I majored in chemical engineering in college. Since I like playing games, I joined a gaming company to work as a designer. Ten years ago, after I came into contact with coral, I was deeply attracted by this magical animal,” he says.

At that time, Feng realized the prospect of artificial breeding when he saw news about coral protection on the internet. He threw himself into the campaign of bringing coral back to the sea through artificial breeding studies.

In order to promote the growth of corals, researchers grind various nutrients into powders in a certain ratio, and then feed the corals through conduits. [Photo by WU JIANXUN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Out of their love for corals, Feng and his team have been trying new experimental methods over the years. They also sought advices from experts at the Institute of South China Sea, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Xiamen University to develop a set of advanced water quality treatment technology. The microorganism symbiosis, involving carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, provides the most suitable growth environment for corals to grow and reproduce rapidly. Now Feng has made breakthroughs in artificial reproduction technology for more than 300 species of corals. Six key technologies, including modular coral farming devices, have obtained national patents. Planting a coral seedling the size of a fingernail would result, in a few months, in a larger coral clump. The coral is placed on a movable base, and the whole coral can be taken out by pulling out the base. The whole plant can be transplanted to the seabed with the base intact, so as to increase its stability and survival rate.

“Our goal is to cultivate corals in an artificial environment to improve their heat, acid, and insect resistance, and make it possible to restore and plant large-scale wild corals in the future,”Feng says. He hopes that the corals they breed will return to the sea, so that the underwater world where corals grow will still be full of vitality.


For the “blue dream” in his heart, Feng has spent countless days and nights studying in the laboratory. [Photo by WU JIANXUN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Coral larvae are fragile. Abnormal water temperature and bacterial infection can easily lead to coral bleaching and death. Technicians should remove diseased branches in time. [Photo by WU JIANXUN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Feng Qiwei discusses with a colleague the possibility of scaling up coral breeding.[Photo by WU JIANXUN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Feng uses his mobile phone to control various environmental conditions for coral growth remotely. [Photo by WU JIANXUN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Feng’s two children are very interested in the underwater world. Feng hopes that children can see the corals he has planted at the bottom of the sea. [Photo provided to China Daily]

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