Australian scientists are using robots to release millions of coral babies to regenerate parts of the Great Barrier Reef, damaged due to growing sea temperatures.
The coral babies, or larvae, were released this week after scientists from four Australian universities collected coral eggs and sperm from the reef and reared the babies in floating nursery pools until they developed polyps, the living part of the organisms.
The operation follows a successful trial of the robotic coral delivery system in reefs in the Philippines earlier this year, according to a joint statement released on Wednesday by the Southern Cross University, the Queensland University of Technology, the James Cook University and the University of Technology Sydney.
“The larval restoration technique involves capturing spawn from thermally tolerant corals that have survived mass bleaching devastation, and rearing millions of larvae in floating nursery pools so they don’t float away before they are capable of settling on the reef,” Peter Harrison, a professor at the SCU, said in the statement.
Harrison has partnered with QUT professor Matthew Dunbabin for a second year in the project, using fleets of “LarvalBots,” semi-autonomous aquatic robots capable of transporting a large number of coral larvae, which are dispersed on the damaged sections of the reef.
Although the scientists said they were satisfied with the project’s success, Harrison warned that “urgent action on climate change is required” to ensure the survival of reef ecosystems.
Earlier this year, a report of the Australian Institute of Marine Science – based on research carried out over 20 years – warned that the Great Barrier reef was facing “unprecedented” challenges for the corals recovering from the constant threats such as massive bleaching, caused by increasing temperatures and cyclones.
The report was published days after famous environmentalist David Attenborough told the British parliament that coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef – which is spread over a length of 2,300 km (1,430 miles) close to the Australian northeastern coast – is among the most visible effects of climate change.
The Great Barrier Reef, home to 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 varieties of mollusks, began to deteriorate in the 1990s due to the double impact of water warming and increased acidity caused by more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.