Repopulating coral communities impacted by catastrophic events is both challenging and expensive. An innovative feasibility study, designed to integrate scientific knowledge about coral growth with industry and indigenous experience, will test new techniques at a high-value reef site.
Through the Advance Queensland Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Coral Abundance Challenge, UTS researchers have secured funding from the Australian and Queensland governments to develop and test innovative new methods to boost coral cover of the Great Barrier Reef.
More than half the coral in the northern Great Barrier Reef was lost in 2016-2017 from an unprecedented heat wave event, and this research is a response to aid the reef's recovery.
Commencing in July 2018 and running through until February 2019, UTS will receive $135,638 to deliver a feasibility study under the SBIR.
This project will develop new tools that can miniaturise and semi-mechanise “out-planting” of corals from coral nurseries back to the reef. It represents a unique partnership between UTS researchers, northern Great Barrier Reef tour operator Wavelength Reef Cruises, local manufacturing industries and the Indigenous Sea Ranger Program.
Lead investigator Associate Professor David Suggett says, “It’s an exciting opportunity to directly apply our knowledge of how corals grow optimally into practices designed to repopulate coral communities impacted by catastrophic events.
“We will evaluate for the first time whether, and how, targeted reef restoration practices, which are being explored and implemented in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific, could contribute to the broader management toolbox of the Great Barrier Reef,” says Suggett, who is team leader in the UTS Climate Change Cluster Future Reefs Program,.
Developing the novel high-throughput tools for out-planting coral back onto the reef builds on a unique coral nursery research facility established at Opal Reef on the northern Great Barrier Reef by Suggett’s team alongside Wavelength Reef Cruises in February this year. The owner of Wavelength Reef Cruises, John Edmondson, says, “We are extremely happy to be working with the experienced team at UTS and grateful to the SBIR scheme for the opportunity to progress these ideas utilising a partnership between science and tourism.
Associate Professor Suggett says their nursery site at Opal Reef is considered a “very high-value site for tourism on the northern reef that was impacted dramatically by the 2016-2017 heat wave”.
“While active restoration of such sites is increasingly considered attractive to maintain their high value, developing a cost-effective approach remains challenging,” he says.
The new tools developed through this project aim to solve conventional cost-effectiveness bottlenecks by improving rate and extent of out-planting coral.
Co-investigator of the project Dr Emma Camp, also a memmber of the UTS Future Reefs Program, says their goals are not an ecosystem-wide management solution but for specific applications.
“By locally targeting such high-value sites it enables us to demonstrate how stakeholder-driven practices, such as coral nurseries, can provide a cost-effective aid to actively secure reef assets,” she says.
The team has already begun trialling their new tools for miniaturisation and mechanising out-planting, which will be fully prototyped and tested over the next eight months.