Special delivery brings new life to the Great Barrier Reef

2 December 2021

The Morrison Government’s Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program has seen Lizard Island receive its first delivery of Coral IVF babies with nearly 10 million coral larvae released across four of its reef locations.

As part of the $150 million Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program, a research team co-led by Southern Cross University, CSIRO and QUT is aiming to optimise large-scale larval production for release directly on the Great Barrier Reef. 

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the work was an example of the world leading science that is helping to build resilience in the Reef’s marine ecosystems.

“The work of Australia’s marine scientists is being watched closely by reef managers around the world,” Minister Ley said.

“We know that coral reefs are under pressure from climate change and through the RRAP program we are researching new ways to help them adapt.” 

Southern Cross University Distinguished Professor Peter Harrison said the team had successfully completed all planned experiments to deliver millions of healthy coral larvae onto target reef sites that haven’t recovered naturally from recent severe bleaching events.

“We will use the results from our successful experiments to refine the methods and optimise mass larval culture and delivery during future mass coral spawning periods, to increase the areas of reef we can start to restore,” Professor Harrison said.

QUT Professor Matthew Dunbabin and his team had successfully deployed their newly created AI-enabled multi-purpose reef-restoration robot boats. 

“This year we had three of the boats to firstly collect coral spawn, then they were reconfigured to autonomously generate high-resolution 3D maps of large areas of reef for larval release, and then reconfigured again to autonomously deploy the larvae directly to suitable restoration locations,” Professor Dunbabin said. 

“We were able to demonstrate the necessary technology stages for scaling restoration and ongoing monitoring to regions around the world.”

Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden said, “We’re already seeing the effects of climate change on our Reef.”

“That’s why we’re trialling innovative new solutions like this large-scale fertility treatment which integrates with a toolkit of interventions being developed through the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program,” Ms Marsden said.

“In addition to reducing emissions, if we want to protect the Reef for future generations, we need to pioneer new solutions to restore lost reefs and help corals adapt to warming temperatures.”

Last week the researchers captured many millions of coral eggs and sperm during the synchronised coral sex event known as mass coral spawning and reared them for five to six days in floating nursery pools in Lizard Island’s Blue Lagoon.

The deployment of millions of larvae will help replenish the reefs around Lizard Island which have suffered multiple disturbances since 2014: Crown of Thorns starfish, severe cyclones, and three mass coral bleaching events.

This research is part of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program which is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Partners include the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, CSIRO, The University of Queensland, QUT, Southern Cross University and James Cook University.
Images available here: https://cloudstor.aarnet.edu.au/plus/s/coPD4PiXkVgN7XB