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"IVF for the Reef": Scientists collect millions of coral eggs and sperm in the biggest project ever tried


November 27, 2018 12:48:55

Scientists carry out the largest and most complex coral regeneration experience ever made on the Great Barrier Reef in an unprecedented new project that can help save the dying coral reefs around the globe.

The project is called by some as "IVF for the Great Barrier Reef".

Professor Peter Harrison of South Cross University said researchers have collected millions of coral eggs and sperm during the annual and beautiful reefing event in Korea this week in the first step of the ambitious project.

"This is the largest recovery project for larvae that has ever been tried not only by the Great Barrier Reef but also anywhere in the world," he said.

"It's really exciting.

"For the first time, we will try to capture literally millions of eggs and sperm at the coral reproduction event on a large scale." We build cattle spawners from Moore Reef in Cairns.

An innovative idea to give coral the best chance for life

Professor Harrison said scientists would grow small corals in the booming boats for about a week, and when the larvae were ready, they would be introduced into the most damaged parts of the reef.

He said everything was necessary to repair the damage caused by mass bleaching in 2016 and 2017.

"At the Great Barrier Reef we have lost more than half of the coral during the last two whitening events," he said.

"The future does not look good for any system of reefs in the world unless we can cope with climate change.

"We have lost so many corals that fewer corals are able to spawn and the fertilizing rate will be lower and the billions of larvae, the reef has to be filled naturally [won’t be produced],

"In the coming years we have to start working how to get there [restorations projects like this] on a large scale to make it meaningful. "

El Nino's predictions make human intervention vital

The Bureau of Meteorology predicts a 70 percent chance of a climate model El Nin that is formed this summer, which is associated with warmer, more extreme temperatures and fewer cyclones.

"It is indeed urgent to do this now – this year, as we are faced with the potential of another massive El Niño, and the consequences will be increased sea temperatures and a high probability of yet another serious bleaching event," said Professor Harrison.

Military Park Master Barrier Reef chief scientist David Vaseffeld agreed and said corals would continue to be stressed when temperatures rose.

"The anxiety is how people change, the climate is warming the world, the reef is getting warmer – and that means conditions that lead to coral bleaching and coral death happen more often and are heavier," he said.

"The moment the reef struggles to survive, it is battered and saturated, but it is sustainable.

"But if we continue the way we are, the reef will not be able to hold back and there will not be much to do, so it is absolutely necessary to do everything we can to reduce greenhouse gases.

"We have to deal with climate change at a local level, but at the same time we work with scientists to develop techniques that will help us in the future."

Maritime researcher Katie Hartran said the project is being conducted jointly with James Cook University, South Cross University and Sydney Technical University with the help of international researchers and tourism organizations.

"We have 55 people in this project," she said.

"We also have teams that come from the Philippines to take part."

While much of the coral caviar is grown on a reef, some have been returned to laboratories where scientists will experiment further to understand how best to promote growth

Ms Chartrant said the propagation coral relied on the growth of the algae.

She said the researchers at Cairns used corals collected by the reef scientists this week to check which algae species gave coral the best chance in life.

The reef recovery project can become global

Professor Harrison said the scale of the operation is unprecedented, but needs to be further expanded.

"This project is the first major attempt to make millions of larvae in the reef system in an effective way," he said.

"Then we plan to turn it into a hectare, and in the next few years we strive for a square kilometer.

"The scale of the damage to the world's reefs is huge, more than 70% of the world's coral reefs are already severely destroyed, and another 10-20% are facing immediate pressure from the growing population.

"We have to work on these much larger scales in the future."

Ms Chartrant said that if the project was successful it could be applied to damaged reefs around the world.

"We are not just talking about using this technology here on the Great Barrier Reef, it's something to be expanded and made available worldwide, in particular by helping to recover the eastern reefs, those reefs that really help babies corals to other surrounding riffs, "she said.

"[Outside the box thinking] is critical, it's about getting real solutions and getting a reef result. "




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