Great Barrier Reef’s Four-Year Coral Nurture Program Experiences “Unprecedented Success”

Apr 22, 2022by Olivia - F&F

Thanks to a dedicated team of ecologists, biologists and tourism operators, the Great Barrier Reef’s Coral Nurture Program has been called an “unprecedented success”. Let’s take a look at how this unique partnership is helping to collect, propagate, grow and plant baby coral to boost the Reef’s resilience to climate change.

Coral Nurture ProgramCoral Nurture Program

Image: Coral Nurture Program

Coral Nurture Program Plants 70,000 Corals On The GBR!

Over the past 4 years, the team from the Coral Nurture Program have successfully planted more than 70,000 coral fragments across 27 sites on the GBR. Recently, the underwater brigade of marine experts wrapped up a two-week expedition to assess the growth of the transplanted corals. 

Coral Scientist and Lead Researcher at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Professor David Suggett, said the Coral Nurture Program was “an unprecedented success”.

“It’s been a year since we’ve been able to visit these specific reef sites and they are looking spectacular. We’ve had two years now of really great growing conditions. The coral is looking very vibrant. We are seeing lots more recruitment — an encouraging sign the reef sites are recovering,” he said.

Coral Nurture ProgramCoral Nurture Program

Image: Coral Nurture Program

How Did The Coral Nurture Program Begin?

The Coral Nurture Program began four years ago, when John and Jenny Edmondson — the co-owners of the Port Douglas-based Wavelength Reef Cruises — set out to help GBR tourism operators after the massive 2016 coral bleaching event. The Edmondson’s are both passionate marine biologists, so they knew they had to come up with ideas to restore these degraded parts of the Reef back to their former health.

“We came up with ideas of how to have a cheap and fast way of out-planting large quantities of coral, and thereby returning the sites back to what they used to be like. We are seeing a really amazing percentage of coral cover now simply because of both planting and natural recovery,” said Jenny Edmondson.

Now, five other reef operators based in Cairns, Port Douglas and the Whitsundays have joined the Coral Nurture Program.

Coral Nurture Program NurseryCoral Nurture Program Nursery

Image: Coral Nurture Program

Reef Tourism Operators Tend To The Coral Nurseries 

So, how does the Coral Nurture program work? Well, under the management of UTS scientists, reef tourism operator staff salvage broken coral fragments while tourists enjoy the sights of the Great Barrier Reef! 

These coral fragments are then replanted to give them an opportunity to grow back, or propagated in an underwater nursery, which are typically suspended two metres below the surface of the water. To plant the corals, the team use a specially designed ‘Coral Clip®’ device to attach the corals to the reef without the need for harsh chemical bonding agents.

“Some of the very first fragments that we planted (2018), the size of my finger, are now spawning by themselves after only three years,” said Professor Suggett.

Coral Nurture Program FragmantsCoral Nurture Program Fragmants

Image: Coral Nurture Program

Boosting The Resilience Of The Great Barrier Reef!

Wavelength Reef Cruises’ John Edmonson says that the Coral Nurture Program isn’t just about restoring local reef sites. It’s also about capacity building, which relies upon boosting the number of operators and crew members that can respond quickly to future extreme weather events.

When extreme weather events take place, corals are at risk of detaching from the reef. With quick intervention, these broken corals can survive if they’re replanted. John Edmonson likened tourism operators to emergency crews — “they have all the training, expertise and knowledge to get the job done." 

So far, the survival rate for the planted coral fragments stands at 85%! “That, for us, is a monumental milestone because it shows that reef replanting is working and can create thousands of other colonies over time,” said Professor Suggett.

This partnership between scientific researchers and tourism operators signifies a new beginning for the Great Barrier Reef! We’re excited to see how this program will unfold in the future, and the impact it’ll have on reef restoration. 

For more updates about the Great Barrier Reef, head over to our Eco News category and check out the blogs below.

Snapchat Launches Augmented Reality Tool To Plant Corals On The GBR!

Successful Spawning Event Brings New Hope For The Great Barrier Reef

Greening Australia’s Reef Aid Program Celebrates 5 Year Anniversary

More Articles