A new dash of hope is on the horizon for the Great Barrier Reef, thanks to the latest success of coral IVF babies, which have shown promising potential to restore damaged reefs within the area.
The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has been working on a project to help restore damaged corals in the Great Barrier Reef, by developing and using a batch of Coral IVF babies grown from microscopic larvae. Since 2016 they have been monitoring their progress.
First, what is Coral IVF?
Coral IVF consists of gathering coral spawn from healthy reefs, which then reproduce to create millions of baby corals. These baby corals are released in floating pools that are situated on the Reef and in tanks, which are then delivered to damaged reefs to restore and repopulate them.
Much of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef reproduce by sending enormous quantities of spawn into the water, where the eggs are fertilised and turn into free-swimming tiny larvae. When this larvae is mature enough, the researchers can take the matured larvae and deliver them to damaged reefs where they cab attach and develop into fully grown corals.
What did they discover?
Returning in 2021, researchers made an exciting discovery and found that the 22 large coral colonies that they planted in their first Coral IVF trial on the Great Barrier Reef, had survived a bleaching event and grown to maturity. Bleaching events can be fatal for corals, increasing the likelihood of morality, meaning wildlife around the corals can no longer find food, creating barren underwater landscapes. Therefore this in an encouraging result. This is the first time a breeding population of baby corals has been established using this ground breaking process.
Using a variety of techniques the team at The Great Barrier Reef Foundation and other partners want share the genetic diversity of the corals, with the ability to share desirable traits between coral species and populations. This would allow researchers to for example plant coral larvae which are already adapted to warmer conditions, helping to strengthen corals resistance to climate change. Other techniques that will be used include gene-editing and synthetic biology to increase other desirable traits ,and adding or building upon reef structures to help coral recovery. The team will also put great emphasis on protecting corals from reef predators and competitors, to ultimately give them the best chance for survival.
Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden said the results are promising.
“We couldn’t be more excited to see that these coral babies have grown from microscopic larvae to the size of dinner plates, having not only survived a bleaching event but are now reproducing themselves – helping to produce larvae that can restore a degraded reef,” she says.
This exciting new discovery of Coral IVF success indicates there is huge potential to begin repopulating the Great Barrier Reef with corals by using this new process, and rebuilding one of the most beautiful sights of the ocean. This could be used to combat current threats facing coral reefs, such as warming oceans and bleaching events as a result of climate change.