Scientists Breeding Corals for the Great Barrier Reef Achieved First-Ever Out-of-Season Spawning Event

The 2019 coral spawning season. Credit: Australian Institute of Marine Science

Scientists in Australia have achieved the first-ever offseason coral spawning in the history of coral breeding and restoration sciences.

The breakthrough dramatically expands the capacity to grow corals in captivity to then use to restore the Great Barrier Reef, since it allows the scientists to spawn coral 50% more often than in nature.

At the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, coral colonies are kept in captivity with the hopes of one day transplanting them to the biggest reef on earth. Out on the GBR, coral spawning happens only twice a year, between October and December.

At the Institute’s Townsville lab, coral have now reproduced in the middle of winter, thanks to artificial moonlight and controlled temperatures which convinced the 43 lab corals the time was right, despite being 6-months ahead of schedule.

“We’re going to have a lot of opportunities to advance coral reproductive biology,” senior aquarist Lonidas Koukoumaftsis told ABC Australia. “Normally we can only explore this once a year in the summer period.”

A scientists collects the larva from a coral during the 2019 coral spawning season. Credit: Australian Institute of Marine Science
Preparing for the 2019 coral spawning season. Credit: Australian Institute of Marine Science

Corals, guided by seasonal warming, moon phases and tides, release egg and sperm into the water around the same time to create new corals. In the Institute’s National Sea Simulator (SeaSim) some corals were subjected to artificial conditions for the purpose of seeing if they could spawn during another period before eventually being transplanted back to the coral.

“At the moment we only have about two times a year we can generate these juvenile corals and then plant them on the reef,” said Koukoumaftsis “Possibly in the future we can increase that ability to restore the reef.”

READ ALSO: Parts of the Great Barrier Reef Show Highest Coral Cover in 36 Years

The natural coral spawning on the GBR, which takes place normally under the cover of darkness, yet with the help of a full moon, is one of the planet’s most incredible natural phenomena.

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