GREAT RESULTS: New research into coral IVF has had great results with coral larvae thriving and likely to spawn as early as next year. Credit: Southern Cross University
GREAT RESULTS: New research into coral IVF has had great results with coral larvae thriving and likely to spawn as early as next year. Credit: Southern Cross University

How Coral IVF could be a saviour for the reef

DESPITE the most widespread bleaching event ever recorded, researchers have found more than 60 coral colonies born through the first Great Barrier Reef Foundation Coral IVF trial on the Reef in 2016 are thriving and likely to spawn next year.

 

Pictures of the Parent Colonies Bathing Tubs in 2016. Supplied by: Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Photographer Gary Cranitch Queensland Museum.
Pictures of the Parent Colonies Bathing Tubs in 2016. Supplied by: Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Photographer Gary Cranitch Queensland Museum.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said she couldn't be more excited to see the coral babies had grown from microscopic larvae to the size of dinner plates, having not only survived a bleaching event but now on track to start reproducing themselves - helping restore a degraded reef.

"Our reef is the largest living thing on Earth, with rich corals spanning an area visible from space," Ms Marsden said.

"But it's facing a growing combination of threats and we need urgent action on climate change while also finding new ways to save coral reefs and help them adapt.

"Saving the Reef is a huge task, but knowing this innovative, cutting-edge science works gives us hope."

 

Floating larval nursery pools in Wistari Reef December 2020. Credit: Southern Cross University
Floating larval nursery pools in Wistari Reef December 2020. Credit: Southern Cross University

Lead researcher and Southern Cross University Professor Peter Harrison has just returned from a research trip to Heron Island to check on the progress of the 2016 coral babies and to conduct further Coral IVF trials.

"I was thrilled to see healthy branching Acropora colonies that are on track to start reproducing themselves in the coral larval restoration sites we settled larvae in four years ago during the first small-scale pilot study," Professor Harrison said.

"In contrast, sadly, the coral communities in the control sites where we didn't add any larvae have remained the same and virtually no natural recruitment of new corals has happened in those sites."

 

Peter Harrison visit to 2016 Acropora coral larval restoration sites on December 3 2020. Credit: Southern Cross University
Peter Harrison visit to 2016 Acropora coral larval restoration sites on December 3 2020. Credit: Southern Cross University

Ms Marsden said the Coral IVF was the first project of its kind to re-establish coral on damaged reefs by collecting millions of coral eggs and sperm during the spawning season, growing them into baby corals and releasing them onto degraded areas of the reef.

 

Peter Harrison transfers spawn into floating larval nursery in December 2020 Credit: Southern Cross University
Peter Harrison transfers spawn into floating larval nursery in December 2020 Credit: Southern Cross University

As part of the world's largest coral reefs program, the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program, this technique is being scaled up with the aim to reach kilometre-scale restoration across the Great Barrier Reef in collaboration with Southern Cross University, CSIRO and QUT, and support from Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Peter Harrison measuring concentrations of larvae during deployment at Heron Island December 2020 Credit: Southern Cross University
Peter Harrison measuring concentrations of larvae during deployment at Heron Island December 2020 Credit: Southern Cross University

"Through the trial which we have just completed with our partners we were able to deploy millions of coral babies to degraded reefs off of Heron and One Tree Islands," Professor Harrison said.

 

Pulling up nets to concentrate larvae before deployment at Heron Island December 2020 Credit: Southern Cross University
Pulling up nets to concentrate larvae before deployment at Heron Island December 2020 Credit: Southern Cross University

The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program is funded by the partnership between the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and the Australian Government's Reef Trust and is delivered by a collaboration between Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, CSIRO, The University of Queensland, QUT, Southern Cross University and James Cook University.

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