Heat-resilient, fertile* corals were plucked from the far northern end of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef to breed with their cooler cousins more than 800km away.
The project, led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and funded by the federal government, was timed to coincide with the Great Barrier Reef’s mass coral spawning* event that began on Tuesday.
The potentially tougher, heat-resilient coral was added to the mix in the hope it would breed with corals from cooler reefs, resulting in hybrid* offspring* more adaptable to warming oceans.
The reef has withstood three major bleaching* events in the last five years, according to scientists.
The coral matchmaking work, along with previous successful instalments of the research, has been undertaken at the National Sea Simulator*, the world’s most advanced research aquarium located at AIMS headquarters near Townsville.
Artificial intelligence and genetic* analysis was used to locate reefs with a high likelihood of having heat tolerant corals.
“The far north of the reef has corals that have survived some of the most devastating coral bleaching events,” AIMS researcher Dr Kate Quigley said.
“We aim to harness this natural ‘heat events’ tolerance and facilitate (the coral’s) introduction to more vulnerable* populations, so we can speed up the natural process of adaptation.”
Dr Line Bay, principal research scientist at AIMS, said global emissions* needed to be reduced and investment in cutting-edge marine science increased in order for coral reefs to be protected.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the government, through the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, was investing $150m in programs to help corals and marine ecosystems adapt to rising ocean temperatures.
The mass coral spawning event is now underway, as the Great Barrier Reef explodes with colour as billions of coral babies are born, giving scientists a narrow window to help secure the reef’s future.
The spawning event, which began about 8pm on Tuesday, marked the 40th anniversary of the discovery of one of the most extraordinary natural phenomena* on the planet, where the corals of the reef simultaneously* reproduce.
Coral spawning provides scientists with an opportunity to fast-track world-leading research to help the Great Barrier Reef resist, adapt to and recover from the impacts of climate change.
Southern Cross University distinguished professor Dr Peter Harrison was part of the small team of researchers to discover mass coral spawning 40 years ago. He is on Lizard Island with research partners CSIRO and QUT to carry out a novel coral larval* restoration technique that he has spent many years developing and refining.
Additional reporting by Felicity Ripper
- fertile: capable of reproducing, able to produce offspring
- spawning: the release of many small eggs by aquatic species including coral and fish
- hybrid: in biology, the offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties
- offspring: babies, children, progeny
- coral bleaching: when water is too warm, corals release algae from their tissue and turn white
- simulator: device or environment designed to provide a realistic imitation or copy
- genetic: coming from a common origin, relating to genes and heredity in organisms
- vulnerable: exposed, at risk, endangered, in need of special protection and care
- emissions: produced substances sent into the air that are harmful to the environment
- phenomena: a remarkable, unusual thing that can be difficult to explain or understand
- simultaneously: at the same time
- larval: relating to larvae, the product of coral eggs and sperm coming together in the water
- How far did the heat-resilient coral travel and from which section of the Great Barrier Reef?
- How many major bleaching events have occurred on the reef in the past five years?
- What have researchers introduced tougher, heat-resilient coral to the mass spawning event?
- What did researchers use to locate reefs with more heat tolerant coral?
- How many years ago was the mass spawning event discovered?
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Create an artwork inspired by the colours of the coral spawning event. Your artwork should be a celebration of this amazing and important event.
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