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IVF coral babies come of age in time for mass spawning event

Jeremy Pierce, December 8, 2021 6:30PM Kids News

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Professor Peter Harrison inspects coral IVF colonies at Heron Island lagoon in December 2020. His team is delighted by the success of the pilot program, which has seen the corals mature in time for the annual mass spawning event. media_cameraProfessor Peter Harrison inspects coral IVF colonies at Heron Island lagoon in December 2020. His team is delighted by the success of the pilot program, which has seen the corals mature in time for the annual mass spawning event.

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The Great Barrier Reef’s first IVF* coral babies have become proud parents themselves after a spectacular spawning* event off North Queensland.

Researchers have found that 22 large coral colonies* born through the first coral IVF trial on the reef in 2016 have grown to maturity – and were filled with eggs and sperm* ready to spawn after the last full moon.

The November coral spawning, one of the world’s most mesmerising* natural events, was praised by scientists as being one of the best in years.

media_cameraCorals from the first IVF trial on the reef in 2016 – pictured being inspected by Professor Harrison’s research team in December 2020 – have now grown to maturity.

The discovery has delighted researchers and given fresh hope that parts of the reef badly damaged by coral bleaching*, cyclones or climate change can be restored.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden said it was a major breakthrough in efforts to protect the world wonder.

“These coral babies have grown from microscopic larvae* to the size of dinner plates, having not only survived a bleaching event but are now reproducing themselves – helping to produce larvae that can restore a degraded* reef,” she said.

“Saving the reef is a huge task, but having proof that this innovative*, cutting-edge science works gives us hope.”

Coral media_cameraThe coral IVF team releasing coral larvae on reefs around Lizard Island during the trial. Southern Cross University’s Professor Peter Harrison collects coral spawn, fertilises them in artificial ponds and then releases the coral larvae onto damaged areas of the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: Joshua Hamilton

Lead Researcher and Southern Cross University Distinguished Professor Peter Harrison said it was the first project of its kind to re-establish coral on damaged reefs by collecting millions of coral eggs and sperm during the spawning season and later releasing them directly onto degraded areas of the reef.

“The ultimate aim of this process is to produce new breeding populations of corals in areas of the reef that no longer have enough live corals present due to being damaged by the effects of climate change,” he said.

“This is a thrilling result, to see these colonies we settled during the first small-scale pilot study on Heron Island grow over five years and become sexually reproductive.”

GLOSSARY

  • IVF: in-vitro fertilisation, a process where an egg and sperm are combined outside the body
  • coral spawning: mass annual release of the sperm and eggs of multiple coral species
  • colonies: here a coral group or cluster, genetically linked but individual organisms
  • sperm: male reproductive cell, gamete, produced by most male animal species
  • mesmerising: capturing attention, transfixing, dazzling, enthralling
  • coral bleaching: when water is too warm, corals expel algae from their tissue and turn white
  • larvae: immature or juvenile form that develops into a different adult form
  • degraded: damaged, reduced in quality, compromised
  • innovative: using new and original methods and ideas

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. When did the first coral IVF trial begin?
  2. How many coral colonies were born as a result of that trial?
  3. What are three things that have badly damaged the Great Barrier Reef?
  4. Anna Marsden compared the current size of the coral babies to what common household item?
  5. Where did the first small-scale pilot study take place?

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CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Name the babies
Think of perfect names for five of the new coral babies. The names have to be very special and say something about the amazing story behind their spawning. Next to each name, write the reasons why you chose that name.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

2. Extension
How has science given fresh hope for the reef? Write an explanation of the steps that have led to the spectacular spawning event.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
Creative vocabulary
Find a bland sentence from the article to up-level. Can you add more detail and description? Can you replace any “said” words with more specific synonyms?

Have you outdone yourself and used some really great vocabulary throughout your writing? First, well done. Second, let’s ensure everyone can understand it by adding a glossary of terms. Pick three of your wow words and create a glossary for each word to explain what it means.

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