Innovation partnership pioneering large-scale global coral restoration

Published 26 July 2019
Dr Dirk Petersen and Prof Peter Harrison Dr Dirk Petersen and Professor Peter Harrison

Coral reefs may be the first ecosystem that could vanish from the earth's surface―an ecological and economic disaster, which will put the livelihood of millions of people at risk. SECORE and Professor Peter Harrison, Southern Cross University, are now forming a strategic global partnership to increase the scale and efficiency of sustainable restoration.

“Corals and the reefs they build are being rapidly degraded around the world, through human activities including destructive fishing, pollution and climate change leading to mass bleaching events and death of corals. It is therefore critically important that we rapidly restore corals that create the foundations of reefs, but the challenge is to do this at a much larger scale,” says Professor Peter Harrison, founding Director of the Marine Ecology Research Centre at Southern Cross University, Australia.

In addition to global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, coral restoration is now widely recognized as an inevitable and increasingly urgent intervention needed to restore reef ecosystems. However, we need to combine more cost-efficient technologies with innovative assisted evolution research to sustainably restore reefs. The production and outplanting of baby corals in massive numbers will only be effective if these corals can better cope with future climate scenarios, such as heat stress. In contrast, some endangered coral species such as the Caribbean elkhorn coral Acropora palmata are no longer able to successfully reproduce in nature. Their survival may significantly be increased by simply assisting these natural populations to reproduce effectively again.

“The massive, global coral decline over recent years has shown us in a very dramatic way that we have to increase our joint efforts immediately to enhance the chance of restoring large areas of corals and reefs before it is too late. SECORE is entering a new era where we are expanding our efforts into the Pacific and intensifying our collaborations with global leaders in the field. The strategic partnership with Professor Peter Harrison’s team at Southern Cross University will help us to accelerate our research and development for providing the most cost-effective technologies as soon as possible to practitioners. By combining our expertise, we will be able to explore innovative solutions that can be rapidly scaled up to sustainably restore reefs,” says Dr Dirk Petersen, Founder and Executive Director of SECORE International.

SECORE has pioneered techniques for large-scale settlement of coral larvae on unique settlement devices to greatly increase the survival of settled polyps during their critical early life stages, while Professor Harrison and his team have successfully developed tools for large-scale collection of coral spawn and settlement of millions of larvae directly onto damaged reef areas.

“I’m excited to be collaborating with Dirk Petersen and the SECORE research team as it allows us to combine decades of international research experience on coral reproduction and reef ecology to plan much larger scales of coral and reef restoration. This gives us hope that we will be able to rescue surviving heat-tolerant coral populations on a wide range of reefs in different parts of the world,” says Professor Harrison.

As many coral populations predictably release billions of eggs and sperm over a few nights, this approach also opens up the possibility to settle millions of coral babies on reefs during each spawning season.

The collaboration between Professor Harrison’s team at Southern Cross University and SECORE will enable much larger scales of successful coral restoration, leading to faster recovery of coral communities that form the essential foundations of these incredibly beautiful and extremely valuable reef ecosystems.

This is a joint press release by Southern Cross University and SECORE International

Media contact: Jessica Nelson 0417288794 or jessica.nelson@scu.edu.au