Marine matchmaking by the millions: researchers win $300,000 award for Barrier Reef coral project

Published 25 October 2018
Peter Harrison Professor Peter Harrison

Southern Cross University marine researcher Professor Peter Harrison has won the $300,000 Great Barrier Reef Foundation's Out of the Blue Box Reef Innovation Challenge.

Professor Harrison and Queensland University of Technology Professor Matthew Dunbabin were chosen for their innovative concept to 'match-make' coral and deliver new coral ‘babies’ on a grand scale to areas of the Great Barrier Reef hardest hit by bleaching and other impacts.

The concept is designed to be activated during November's annual mass coral spawning event on the Reef, when corals reproduce simultaneously and spectacularly.

Led by Professors Harrison and Dunbabin, scientists will capture hundreds of millions of spawn from the corals that have survived two recent mass coral bleachings, and rear them into baby corals in mass quantities inside large floating enclosures.

A new generation of robot will then play ‘stork’, delivering the tiny baby coral larvae out on to reefs.

The prestigious award is provided by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and The Tiffany & Co. Foundation. Professor Harrison is excited by the potential for reef restoration and sustainability.

"This has the potential to revolutionise coral restoration on reefs worldwide," he said. "Our project involves mass coral spawn collection and coral larval production, and undersea robotic delivery of larvae to restore areas of the Great Barrier Reef damaged by bleaching.

"The grant will allow a massive increase in the scale of larval production and delivery."

Professor Harrison is Director of the Marine Ecology Research Centre at Southern Cross University and is a recognised leader in coral reproduction ecology.

“This project brings together the scientist who pioneered the coral IVF (larval reseeding) technique, with the robotics team that created RangerBot, the award-winning autonomous reef protector,” said the Managing Director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Ms Anna Marsden.

QUT Professor Dunbabin said modified RangerBots, called LarvalBots, would be used.

"I am helping provide the means for the incubation system and with dispersal once reared," he said. "The bots will be one of two methods used to disperse the coral larvae.

"Larval clouds will be used for broadcast deployment. LarvalBots will be used, initially in a semi-autonomous mode, for targeted delivery of the larvae."

Media contact: Southern Cross University media team 0417288794 or scumedia@scu.edu.au