Less than a year after the Reef Restoration Foundation planted its first Coral Tree, the first nursery-grown corals have been planted on the Great Barrier Reef.
100 corals were planted on a reef at Fitzroy Island over the weekend after the not-for-profit organisation was given Australia’s first permit to take coral cuttings and grow them in an ocean-based nursery for transplanting on degraded reefs.
The foundation’s chief executive officer, Stewart Christie said growth rates at the Fitzroy Island nursery had exceeded expectations allowing the full cycle of collecting, growing and planting the coral to be completed in eight months.
“This ‘reeforestation’ process mimics nature and accelerates growth to enable reefs to recover from bleaching and cyclone damage faster,” he said. “Last December Reef Restoration’s volunteer divers collected 24 corals which had survived two years of high-water temperatures from a reef near Fitzroy Island and cut them into 246 pieces of coral.
“These were attached to coral tree frames in the underwater nursery and monitored weekly with many of the corals growing two and a half times their original size in just six months.
“Over the weekend Nursery Operations Director Gary McKenna and a team of divers harvested the first batch of 100 corals from the nursery to begin regenerating damaged areas of fringing reef around Fitzroy Island.”
Mr McKenna said six areas, each 16 square metres in size, were marked out to give three transplant areas and three control areas with two pieces of coral attached per square metre.
“A baseline survey of the existing coral and a fish survey of the area were carried out so we can compare coral cover in the transplant and control areas,” he said.
“Three species of coral, Acropora digitifera, Acropora nobilis and Acropora muricata, were attached to degraded coral using underwater glue and we will monitor both the effectiveness of this method and the placement of the coral.
“We are working to expand the program at other high-value reef sites and are looking at options for the public, community groups and businesses to be involved in helping this amazing environmental, economic and cultural asset.
“Reef Restoration Foundation’s goal is to grow 25,000 new corals on the Great Barrier Reef by 2021 as part of our vision to accelerate the recovery of damaged high-value reefs and strengthen the Reef’s resilience.”
The Reef Restoration Foundation pilot ocean-based nursery is monitored by James Cook University’s TropWATER and Reef Ecologic with the support of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.