TONY EASTLEY: It's sad and sobering to think that a group of scientists is drawing up plans to create a bank of coral reef samples, just in case the giant living organisms are lost to the world.
Describing it as a last-ditch attempt to save the world's coral reefs, a team of scientists from the UK is collecting samples that will be frozen and cultivated in what they're describing as an ark. The scientists say if humans don't do something soon to reduce the damage, the reefs will be reduced to rubble by the middle of the century.
Barbara Miller reports.
BARBARA MILLER: Dr Alex Rogers from the Institute of Zoology in London admits it's a hard sell.
ALEX ROGERS: Obviously everyone is probably pretty tired of hearing about the whole climate change situation.
BARBARA MILLER: But the marine biologist says something must be done now to save the world's coral reefs.
ALEX ROGERS: This really is almost a last-ditch effort to preserve coral reefs' diversity.
BARBARA MILLER: At a meeting in Copenhagen, a team from the Institute of Zoology has been presenting its plans to preserve parts of the world's reefs by freezing them.
ALEX ROGERS: It involves going out into the field and taking coral polyps which is basically a very small piece of coral colony and then cutting that coral colony up into very small pieces of tissue and then the technology has basically been developed to actually freeze those tiny pieces of tissue.
It appears that we can then basically revive those tiny pieces of tissue and enable each fragment of coral tissue to grow into a new coral polyp and from there to essentially propagate the coral into a new coral colony.
BARBARA MILLER: Would this be something that people would go and visit as in a zoo or something purely in a lab?
ALEX ROGERS: At the moment the concept we are actually looking at is to literally have a frozen ark for reef-building corals. So that essentially is a lab-based project to freeze the diversity of corals that can build coral reefs.
But the idea is to actually set up this facility at Whipsnade Zoo in the UK as part of a network of similar facilities that are spread across the world.
What we would also hope to do is develop propagation facilities along with those cryopreservation facilities and those obviously would be open to the public as well and people can actually come and look at the diversity of reef-building corals that we are actually preserving.
BARBARA MILLER: The biologists reject suggestions that they are admitting defeat by focussing their efforts on creating a coral bank, rather than on maintaining the existing reefs.
ALEX ROGERS: I don't think it is a matter of admitting defeat. What I think is that essentially we have to be realistic in that we have to think about the scenarios that go along with the eventuality that we don't reach the levels of CO2 reductions that are really required to save the coral reef ecosystems.
BARBARA MILLER: The scientists say they hope to have a trial project for a coral ark up and running within the next two years. If temperatures are stabilised in the future, they say they hope the coral could be reintroduced into the sea.
TONY EASTLEY: Barbara Miller.