Direct and indirect effects of global warming, such as ocean acidification and the Great Bleaching Event, have resulted in a large-scale and long-lasting damage to the Great Barrier Reef. Large portions of the reef have a chance to recover from natural disasters, so an intervention has been devised to remedy what people have done in this World Heritage site.
The Larval Restoration Project is aimed at reestablishing reproductive life cycles and corals are healthy. The team will harvest coral sperm and eggs and grow new larvae which will be released in the most damaged areas of the reef. The resort is located in the Arlington Reef area, which is just off the coast of Cairns in Queensland.
"This is the first time that large-scale larval rearing and settlement will be undertaken directly on the reefs of the Great Barrier Reef," project leader, Professor Peter Harrison, from Southern Cross University, said in a statement. "Our team will be restoring hundreds of square meters with the goal of getting a square footage in the future."
Harrison's team has been testing this regeneration approach on smaller scales in the Philippines, as well as Heron and One Tree Islands in the southern Great Barrier Reef. If this large scale attempt is as successful, it could be employed elsewhere around the world.
One of the most interesting innovations of this trial is the co-culturing of tiny algae known as zooxanthellae, which lives in the tissues of many corals. The coral and the microalgae have a mutualistic relationship. The coral protects the algae and provides it with nutrients. The algae produce oxygen and remove from the coral.
"These microalgae and their symbiosis with corals are essential for healthy coral communities that build reefs," said Professor David Suggett, co-worker at the University of Technology Sydney. "So we are aiming to fast-track this process to see if survival and early growth of juvenile corals can be boosted by rapid uptake of the algae."
The project is a collaboration between Harrison, Suggett, Katie Chartrand, James Cook University, The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service, as well as other key industry partners. The intervention is a bold move but it should not be seen as a way to save the reef. This is damage control.
Professor Harrison said: "Our approach to reef restoration aims to buy time for coral populations to survive and evolve until emissions are capped and our climate stabilises." "Climate action is the only way to ensure coral reefs survive into the future."