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By Natalie Kikken 21 February 2022 2 min read

Lauren assists with our coral spawning research. She is a research technician working in the Moving Corals subprogram as part of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP). This is a collaborative project between us, Southern Cross University and Queensland University of Technology. It aims to find large-scale solutions to help the Great Barrier Reef recover from the impacts of climate change.

Lauren recently returned from Lizard Island in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef. She was on the lookout for coral spawning to aid coral reef recovery from disturbances, such as coral bleaching.

Baby boom of the coral kind

Coral spawning is one of nature's rare and impressive events.

“Every year following the full moon in late spring or early summer, corals release millions of eggs and sperm which forms a coral slick. It happens for a few hours over just a few nights,” Lauren said.

“We collected some of these egg and sperm bundles and cultured them in large floating pools on the ocean. This helps increase the survival of the coral larvae while they're growing. We then trialled a variety of techniques to release healthy larvae onto damaged areas of reef. And we measured how these techniques could help with coral recovery.”

This research is proving critical to understand how coral responds to different interactions and disturbances during all life stages. This includes coral reproduction to coral larvae development and settlement. It’s also helping scientists predict and test coral recovery at larger scales.

Lauren and the team carried out trials at Heron Island in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef in 2018-2020. They then tested these methods at Lizard Island late last year. This was to help scale-up restoration efforts for larger areas of the Reef that need it.

This research extends on previous efforts to harvest coral larvae from the lab to the reef and revealing some coral colonies can spawn more than once which leads to better reef health.

Variety is the spice of ocean life

It was David Attenborough’s Blue Planet that inspired Lauren to pursue a pathway into marine science (if you haven’t watched it, we recommend that you do!).

Fast forward 20 years and being part of our coral research still gives Lauren a thrill.

“It’s exciting to be on the forefront of new research to help restore the Reef,” Lauren said.

“Seeing the coral spawning and the embryos slowly developing into swimming larvae under a microscope for the first time was truly remarkable. I’ll never forget it.”

“I’m really optimistic that the valuable work we are doing for the Great Barrier Reef with our partners will provide solutions to help protect it. And help manage reefs worldwide too.”

This research is part of the Moving Corals collaborative project with Southern Cross University and Queensland University of Technology as part of RRAP. RRAP is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. It brings together leading experts to create and innovate interventions to help the Great Barrier Reef resist, adapt and recover from climate change.

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