Scientists create 100,000 tiny corals and throw them into the water to save the Great Barrier Reef

The hope is that this pioneering research project, the largest ever undertaken in the field of coral restoration, will significantly improve the chances of survival of fragile coral reefs.

In recent years we’ve heard a lot of worrying news about the massive Great Barrier Reef. Coral reefs will not be able to adapt to climate change and will therefore bleach and die en masse. Therefore, scientists are eagerly searching for ways to save coral from extinction. Now it seems they are on their way to a promising solution. “The science is clear: ocean warming is inevitable, and reducing emissions alone is no longer enough to protect the Great Barrier Reef,” said Cédric Robello, the organisation’s executive director. Coral reef restoration and adaptation programme (RRAP). “We need to develop a range of solutions to restore coral reefs on a large scale.”

Bleaching waves
As mentioned earlier, the Great Barrier Reef has had a tough time in recent years. In 2016, scientists watched in horror as a record amount of coral died on the world’s largest coral reef. In 2017, the Great Barrier Reef was struck again. The reefs had not even recovered from this period of mass bleaching when the next wave arrived in 2020. In 2022, the reefs were hit again: the fourth time in just six years that corals have been so severely exposed to severe bleaching waves. The reason is not complicated. It’s all about rising water temperatures due to global warming. So researchers rightly wonder how much future the beautiful Great Barrier Reef still has.

These solutions are now a reality. For the first time, scientists have joined forces to raise and deliver nearly 100,000 baby corals to the Great Barrier Reef. This is believed to be the largest coral restoration research project ever undertaken.

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Coral children
The project is promising. This means that the chances of the vulnerable Great Barrier Reef’s survival will improve dramatically. “In recent years, research has contributed to our understanding of how to grow healthy coral reefs on a large scale in aquaculture facilities,” says RRAP’s Line Bay. “This includes the use of technological and biological approaches, such as selecting corals based on their natural resistance to heat. This research contributes to improving these techniques further, by bringing together many studies in our most comprehensive field trial to date. It represents a critical breakthrough and represents an important step.” In understanding how these corals will behave under the current and future natural conditions of the Great Barrier Reef.

AutoSpawner
How does it all work exactly? Using the AutoSpawner, an automated aquarium system specifically designed to facilitate the fertilization of large numbers of coral eggs, many coral larvae can be produced. This takes a time-consuming task out of the hands of scientists. In fact, the AutoSpawner can produce over seven million larvae in one night.

the cars. Photo: M. Roman

The larvae are then placed on special tiles and grow into small corals within a few weeks. They are then transferred to different ceramic “holders”. Large numbers of healthy young corals are delivered to the reef on these carriers in a safe and efficient manner.

Ceramic carriers containing small corals are deposited on the Great Barrier Reef. Image: Australian Institute of Marine Science

Four times that
By the way, this isn’t the first time scientists have created mini coral reefs and placed them in the water as part of efforts to save the Great Barrier Reef. This also happened last year. But during the current experiment, at least four times as many corals were brought to the reef than at that time. “We will place a total of 10,000 carriers during two field trips, with approximately 100,000 individual small corals,” says researcher Mohamed Abdel Wahab. “We will then monitor their development at quarterly intervals. Last year we installed 2,000 tankers, which represents a significant increase.

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three millions
Despite this large sum, this is not even the end point. Ultimately, the research team wants to place up to three million holders over the next three to five years, adding millions of baby corals to the reef. “We are currently working to increase production,” Al-Wahab continues. “We want to deliver healthy, diverse corals to the reef in the most efficient and cost-effective way.”

Thrives
The hope is that the tiny corals will eventually thrive in the wild. Because although raising large numbers of healthy corals in aquaculture facilities is difficult but possible, the ultimate goal is to bring them to the reef and help them survive under natural conditions. “This year, the carriers will be deployed in two ways: carefully placed by divers in specific areas and offshore from a small vessel,” says Wahab. “We want to investigate how young corals thrive in both propagation methods.”

The field trial represents an important milestone in the study of coral conservation and restoration. Researchers are on track to develop tools to restore vulnerable coral reefs affected by climate change, among other things. “This pioneering project is a convergence of many scientific and technological achievements from different organizations,” says Robillot. “This brings us closer to achieving the plan to deliver millions of heat-resistant corals to reefs every year.”

Megan Vasquez

"Creator. Coffee buff. Internet lover. Organizer. Pop culture geek. Tv fan. Proud foodaholic."

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