Saturday , December 5 2020
Home / Environment / Professor shoots for the moon to save Barrier Reef with ‘coral IVF’

Professor shoots for the moon to save Barrier Reef with ‘coral IVF’

Professor Harrison’s “coral IVF” program is backed by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation as part of $100 million set aside for reef restoration projects from $443 million the federal government allocated over six years.

Speaking from the Townsville headquarters of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Professor Harrison explained how committed reef visitors helped collect coral larvae from a coral “spawn slick” on the ocean’s surface.

Coral researchers from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation move a coral embryo nursery into position in the Whitsundays.

Coral researchers from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation move a coral embryo nursery into position in the Whitsundays.Credit:Great Barrier Reef Foundation

The larvae are placed in coral nursery pens and, six to nine months later, the two-centimetre baby corals are transplanted back on to trays on the reef to grow.

It was one method of transplanting heat-tolerant corals to heat-affected areas of the Great Barrier Reef now being explored.

“It is like when people go and do a reforestation project or plant their garden, they get a sense of pride,” Professor Harrison said.

“It is exactly the same emotion that we think is really important for people connecting with the reef.”

Researchers place corals grown from warmer waters into trays.

Researchers place corals grown from warmer waters into trays.Credit:Great Barrier Reef Foundation

The concept was not unique.

Visitors to the Queensland government’s Mon Repos turtle research centre at Bargara, near Bundaberg, would understand. During nesting season 70 tourists a night help count turtle eggs and help rangers track the loggerhead turtles.

The Great Barrier Reef is being marred by repeated coral bleaching events, the impact of warming waters and an increasing frequency of storms.

“The reason why the Great Barrier Reef and other reef systems used to function perfectly well and recover from major events was that during these mass spawning events, you are getting literally trillions of larvae produced,” Professor Harrison said.

“What has happened now, with all the coral bleaching events and all of the other reef events that we are seeing, is that we are losing adult corals faster than they are being replaced naturally.”

Professor Terry Hughes from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies reported in October that small, medium and large corals – mostly branching and table corals – on the reef had declined by more than 50 per cent since the 1990s.

But Professor Harrison is confident results from three years of coral IVF research in the Philippines and at Heron Island, off the central Queensland coast, show they can repair the reef.

His team worked to “enhance the natural selection process”, with branch corals – the best species to provide homes for diverse species of fish on the reef – becoming sexually active at three years.

“We know that many corals died during these recent bleaching events,” he said.

“The corals that are left there have higher heat tolerance and the experiments that are currently under way are indicating that their parents have a higher heat tolerance, so it is increasingly likely that their offspring will have higher heat tolerance.

“By putting lots of larvae down, natural selection will occur. And the toughest ones that are best suited to this new changed environment are the ones to continue to grow and, hopefully, continue breeding.

“So to get to breeding coral populations – which is the whole point of this exercise – it is not just to put more corals back on the reef, it is to get them to breeding size so that they can actually start producing larvae that drift off into other parts of the reef and repair it in a better way in the future.”

Economically, the Great Barrier Reef is still one of Australia’s biggest drawcards, attracting almost 3 million visitors a year, contributing $5.7 billion to the Australian economy and supporting 59,000 full-time jobs, according to Tourism and Events Queensland.

Whitsundays Charter Boat Industry Association executive secretary Sharon Smallwood said the idea of having tourists play an active part on the process had a lot of merit, especially as local operators had been hit hard by the lack of international visitors.

“They are really on their knees from a financial perspective, but they are still putting their hands up to be involved in projects like this that have strong environmental outcomes,” she said.

“…I think there is certainly a way forward and a market for environmental and volunteer tourism.

“The Great Barrier Reef is very globally significant and people are very concerned across the world about the environmental aspects of what we are trying to do to protect it.”

The Bureau of Meteorology’s latest State of the Climate report, released on Friday, warned warmer ocean temperatures meant coral bleaching would become more frequent.

Most Viewed in Environment

Loading

About admin

Check Also

Vales Point says pollution breaches reflect dirty Lake Macquarie water

Based on data collected at a control location 13 kilometres away, the company estimated discharges …