Historic efforts underway to regenerate Great Barrier Reef

Scientists in Australia are using millions of coral spawn to regenerate the Great Barrier Reef in what is the biggest coral reseeding project in history.

The Larval Restoration Project aims to repair the reproductive life cycles of corals and re-establish breeding populations on damaged reefs in parts of the Great Barrier Reef located off Cairns in northeastern Australia.

A team of scientists will harvest millions of coral eggs and sperm during the current spawning event, which began last week, to grow new coral larvae. These will then be released back onto heavily degraded parts of the Northern Great Barrier Reef.

“This is the first time that the entire process of large scale larval rearing and settlement will be undertaken directly on reefs on the Great Barrier Reef,” said coral scientist Peter Harrison of Southern Cross University.

“Our team will be restoring hundreds of square meters with the goal of getting to square kilometres in the future, a scale not attempted previously.” Harrison said this the most ambitious effort to regenerate a reef to date.

The scientists are working closely with local tourism and other-reef based industries, which have donated key vessels and crews in an effort to restore larger areas of reef than ever before.

“We hope to make direct partnerships between science and other industry partners the norm rather than the exception as these innovations develop,” said Katie Chartrand of James Cook University. “Collaboration is fundamental to a successful outcome.”

One of the innovations being trialled during this project is mass co-culturing of coral larvae with their algal partners. Professor Harrison’s team has already successfully trialled this innovative technique on a smaller scale in the Philippines as well as on a part of the Southern Great Barrier Reef. If the enhanced technique proves successful on the Northern Great Barrier Reef, it has the capacity to be scaled globally to reefs around the world.

But Harrison cautions that the project will not ‘save’ the Great Barrier Reef.

“Our approach to reef restoration aims to buy time for coral populations to survive and evolve until emissions are capped and our climate stabilises,” he said. “Climate action is the only way to ensure coral reefs can survive into the future.”

Image credit: Biopixel

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