Aussie team using tiny invention to help regrow Great Barrier Reef

Climate change is killing the world's reefs, now a team is racing to regrow it.

It’s no secret our Great Barrier Reef has seen better days. Its been repeatedly bleached by warming waters, battered by storms, polluted by farming runoff and threatened by disease.

In a bid to help some of three of the saddest looking areas, scientists are packing 10,000 alumina-ceramic devices with young coral and sinking them to the bottom.

Coral reproduction expert Dr Muhammad Abdul Wahab explained to Yahoo News Australia the 15cm-wide seeding devices are designed to latch onto the reef. Over a year, the tiny babies then grow out of the crevices and develop into recognisable corals.

10,000 tiny coral-seeding devices are being dropped on the Great Barrier Reef. Source: AIMS
10,000 tiny coral-seeding devices are being dropped on the Great Barrier Reef. Source: AIMS

Wahab is part of a team led by Australian Institute of Marine Science that’s undertaking the world’s largest ever coral restoration research trial. While they’re starting off relatively small, over the next five years they hope to drop two to three million devices.

As climate change continues to devastate reefs around the world, the institute is developing a suite of technologies including selective breeding of warming-resistant corals, and aquaculture facilities that can raise them in a cost-effective way.

Although much of the work is still at the research and development stage, Wahab is confident of success. For instance, the coral larvae they raise have a survival rate of 50 to 70 per cent, while in the wild only one in a million larvae grow into adults.

Are there risks to interfering with natural coral?

While the project brings hope to the world’s reefs, interfering with nature also poses a risk to the natural environment.

“We are trying to understand what impacts there could be on natural populations. For example, at this stage we are investigating genetic-bottlenecks,” he told Yahoo.

Working to prevent their project from changing the appearance of the reef, the researchers are also selecting species based on functional diversity.

“Yes, future reefs may not look the same as how they do today, even in a natural sense,” Wahab said. “A reef that has been impacted by severe bleaching may recover, and represent a healthy reef, but it may not look as it did before.”

The project will likely help improve the survival of reefs, but it alone will not be enough. If the world does not significantly reduce carbon emissions then the world’s reefs face being almost entirely wiped out.

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