A WORLD FIRST project harnessing the power of in vitro fertilization is being used to help bring more life to the Whitsunday reefs.
Tourism operators along with researchers from the Great Barrier Reef Foundations have replenished corals with in vitro fertilization.
The IVF technique involves capturing eggs and sperm from corals that have survived bleaching.
Millions of small corals are then reared in specially designed nursery tanks before being transported to target areas of damaged coral reefs.
Southern Cross University Professor Peter Harrison said the project will help restore corals for years to come.
“The little corals settle on those coral reefs and in a few years they will grow to the size of a serving dish and beyond,” he said.
“They will sexually reproduce and create their own coral pups, re-establishing breeding populations on damaged coral reefs.”
The workers of Kiana Sail and Dive, Ocean Rafting, Red Cat Adventures and Southern Cross Sailing Adventures are all involved in the project and are learning how to use the IVF technique from their boats.
In the future, these operators could lead the push to restore the reef during spawning events.
Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association president Sharon Smallwood said it was great to see those who were in the water every day at the forefront of the initiative.
“Our maritime tourism operators have a strong connection with the islands and coral reefs of the Whitsundays and feel strongly about protecting their patch,” he said.
Thriving coral ecosystems not only safeguard our precious underwater environment, but also ensure the future of sustainable tourism on the Great Barrier Reef.
“Based on the success of previous trials of this coral IVF technique, particularly on severely degraded coral reefs in the Philippines, we have high hopes of increasing and accelerating our current restoration efforts, with tangible and inspiring results.”
Tourism Whitsundays CEO Tash Wheeler said securing the reef’s future would be key to keeping visitor numbers high.
“The diversity between the outer and inner reefs around our 74 islands is undoubtedly one of the biggest tourist draws for the region,” he said.
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“It is critical to the longevity of the tourism industry in the Whitsundays and Queensland that our industry continues to be at the forefront of visitor education and reef protection.
“As an industry, we need to make sure we continue to innovate and collaborate to make sure we take care of this delicate ecosystem.”
This trial is part of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s Reef Islands Initiative, the largest coral reef habitat rehabilitation project of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
The initiative is supported by grants from Lendlease, the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, the Queensland Government and the Fitzgerald Family Foundation.