Experimental Scientist with the Australian Institute of Marine Science Jason Doyle with a Crown of Thorns starfish (COTS) on Moore Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, off the coast of Cairns in Far North Queensland. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Experimental Scientist with the Australian Institute of Marine Science Jason Doyle with a Crown of Thorns starfish (COTS) on Moore Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, off the coast of Cairns in Far North Queensland. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

Great Barrier Reef work giving nature a hand

THE future of the Great Barrier Reef has spawned a truly collaborative effort from government agencies, universities, marine scientists and educators.

Southern Cross University's Professor Peter Harrison is leading a team of scientists and students from James Cook University and the University of Technology Sydney on a project which will give mother nature a helping hand.

Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef CEO Andy Ridley snorkelling on Moore Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, off the coast of Cairns in Far North Queensland. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef CEO Andy Ridley snorkelling on Moore Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, off the coast of Cairns in Far North Queensland. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

"What this project is trying to do is capture spawn from the remaining heat tolerant corals that have survived the bleaching events, and use that as the broodstock to start the next generation of corals … we are hoping to get even higher heat tolerance, and (the coral) will be able to survive some of the next bleaching impact," Prof Harrison said.

Following two summers of coral bleaching on the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017, the focus on the annual coral spawning has become even greater.

Coral larvae have been collected and placed into large inflatable coral nurseries, floating in the waters near Moore Reef.

There, the larvae matures, while protected from natural predators. After a few days, they are transported into holding tanks on Reef Magic's pontoon, where it is cocultured with algae grown by James Cook University senior researcher Katie Chartrand and her team.

James Cook University marine scientist Katie Chartrind and Professor Peter Harrison of Southern Cross University on Moore Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, off the coast of Cairns in Far North Queensland. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
James Cook University marine scientist Katie Chartrind and Professor Peter Harrison of Southern Cross University on Moore Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, off the coast of Cairns in Far North Queensland. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

"We have grown more than 10 billion cells of a more thermally tolerant species of algae for our developing larvae to take up," Ms Chartrand said.

"The next step will be to monitor how these energy-boosted larvae survive and grow in order to test if this technique improves coral recovery out on the reef."

Prof Harrison is excited for the future of the project and what it could mean for the Far North's natural asset. "If we (can) get to billions of larvae, that's starting to be like natural systems … if we can start to get to that scale to mimic nature … so that we're putting the maximum number of larvae back into the most damaged parts of the reef, then we know we can be successful," he said.

Southern Cross University Professor Peter Harrison sits on the Octogon, a coral lavae incubator, off Moore Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off the coast of Cairns in Far North Queensland. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Southern Cross University Professor Peter Harrison sits on the Octogon, a coral lavae incubator, off Moore Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off the coast of Cairns in Far North Queensland. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

INCUBATOR NURSERY FOR CORAL

THE Great Barrier Reef is not dead. But we can still give it a helping hand.

Last Sunday I joined other journalists from all over Australia on a journey to Moore Reef. We witnessed first hand the cutting edge technology marine scientists are using to help coral growth on the Great Barrier Reef.

Professor Peter Harrison discovered the annual mass coral spawning on the reef in 1982, and for 37 years he has been working on methods to propagate coral using the larvae from the spawning. His latest floating coral incubator on Moore Reef can hold millions of coral larvae, but Professor Harrison has dreams of creating floating coral nurseries more than a square kilometre in size, housing billions of larvae and replicating nature.

Coral spawn grows into coral larvae on the Great Barrier Reef. A team of marine scientists have grown the larvae in a large coral nursery floating in the water of the Great Barrier Reef. PICTURE: JURGEN FREUND
Coral spawn grows into coral larvae on the Great Barrier Reef. A team of marine scientists have grown the larvae in a large coral nursery floating in the water of the Great Barrier Reef. PICTURE: JURGEN FREUND

CROWN-OF-THORNS DETECTION

The Australian Institute of Marine Science biochemist Jason Doyle and his colleague, Sven Uthicke, have developed a method to detect the DNA of the crown-of-thorns starfish in seawater. The new technique ensures early detection of the marine pest, ensuring better containment of any outbreaks. Prior to the new method, scientists were unable to predict future outbreaks.

A large staghorn coral with a large amount of fish grows on Moore Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, off the coast of Cairns in Far North Queensland. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
A large staghorn coral with a large amount of fish grows on Moore Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, off the coast of Cairns in Far North Queensland. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

BUILDING REEF NETWORK SUPPORT

Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef chief executive Andy Ridley is helping create a global network of people who care for the reef. "There are enough people who show the attitude to change things, to work on the resilience of the reef itself, to do everything we can locally … what's cool about today is to see the size of this operation."


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