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The Great Barrier Reef Gets a Fertility Treatment

The Great Barrier Reef Gets a Fertility Treatment

Great Barrier Reef

Great news today for nature lovers with scientists hopeful that an IVF style fertility treatment for coral can help to regenerate the Great Barrier Reef. With the world glued to the mesmeric Blue Planet II, the preservation of our oceans is at the forefront of conversation and today’s announcement is a heartening breakthrough for such an important natural site. The famous reef has been extensively damaged by a process known as coral bleaching where warm water stresses the organism and causes it to die.

UNESCO‘s report from June this year on coral ecosystems, talked about the problem,

“soaring ocean temperatures in the past three years have subjected 21 of 29 World Heritage reefs to severe and/or repeated heat stress, and caused some of the worst bleaching ever observed at iconic sites like the Great Barrier Reef.”

Scientists last November took microscopic sperm and eggs during the areas annual coral spawning event and put them into giant tanks for fertilisation at the Heron Island Research Station. The more than a million coral larvae that resulted were then planted back onto the reef. This year, the team from Southern Cross University led by Professor Peter Harrison, who co-discovered coral spawning 35 years ago, returned to find that the juvenile corals had successfully established themselves on the reef.

Collecting coral spawn. Credit: Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Professor Harrison was pleased with the results of the study,

“This pilot study carried out on Heron Island shows that our new techniques to give corals a helping hand to conceive and then settle, develop and grow in their natural environment can work on the Great Barrier Reef,”

“This is the first large-scale study of its kind and our research shows that we can help corals reproduce successfully by increasing larvae settling on the Great Barrier Reef and allowing them to develop into juvenile corals,”

“The success of this project on Heron Island could increase the scale of coral restoration on the Great
Barrier Reef in future; if we can fast track coral growth and regeneration and apply this to other areas of the Reef, we hope to see larger areas of healthy coral that can be enjoyed by generations to come,”
said Professor Harrison.

Professor Peter Harrison on Heron Island. Credit: Great Barrier Reef Foundation

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s biggest coral reef system and the largest living thing on Earth, stretching 2,300 kilometres, or 70 million football fields in size, from the tip of the Cape York Peninsula to Bundaberg. It’s home to the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with around 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish. It’s also where you’ll find endangered species, including the large green turtle and the dugong. It’s also Queensland’s most valuable tourism asset with around two million visitors experiencing the reef each year, with this natural asset valued at a whopping $56billion.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director is positive about the reef’s future,

“Researchers on the island are looking at innovations like larval reseeding to help coral reefs rebuild and adapt so they can live through everything the world is throwing at them and to survive into the future.”

Coral spawning. Credit: Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Like any parent-to-be, Professor Harrison will continue to anxiously monitor the growth of both coral colonies and refine techniques for future application to other areas of the Great Barrier Reef. Indeed the significance of this study is wide ranging and it’s hoped it could breathe new life into similar areas around the world.

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