Reef experiment has potential to ensure ongoing health of one of Australia’s greatest natural treasures
Professor Peter Harrison, the marine scientist who co-discovered coral spawning 35 years ago, conducted the oversized “fertility treatment”, at the Heron Island Research Station, with help from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
The experiment was first trialled in 2016 when millions of microscopic sperm and eggs were harvested from last year’s annual coral spawning event, and placed into giant tanks for fertilisation. The subsequent coral larvae were then planted back onto the Reef.
Based on the learnings from the 2016 trial, Professor Harrison this month captured and reared more larvae, taken from this year’s spawning event, in a larger-scale study that has already shown signs of successful larval settlement.
This time around, mesh tents were used to veil the planted larvae to prevent them from floating to the surface, which Professor Harrison says assists the larvae to attach and settle onto the Reef and form juvenile colonies.
“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,” he said.
“From our previous studies, we know that microscopic larvae, once settled, can grow into dinner plate size corals in just three years and become sexually reproductive.”
“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.”
The success of the larval reseeding project at Heron Island is a marker of hope for restoring areas of the Great Barrier Reef previously affected by coral bleaching.