Lonely Planet Writer

New hope for coral reefs as scientists successfully manage a 'coral transplant'

With an increasing amount of coral bleaching happening around the world, our fragile coral reefs are under renewed spotlight as scientists ramp up efforts to save them. Up to now, many experts believed that it was impossible to restore the reefs after rising sea temperatures destroyed them but now new technology has raised hopes that they can be saved.

The news is sure to make the Great Barrier Reef’s turtles happy. Michael Smith ITWP/Shutterstock

In a recent trial, researchers were successfully able to transplant coral spawn from a healthy area of the Great Barrier Reef to a damaged part. In just eight months, this spawn grew into healthy, juvenile coral up to five centimetres-long. Scientists played a huge role in making this happen. They collected the spawn and eggs last year and grew them into larvae in tanks. Once that stage was complete, they transplanted them to a damaged area stretching over 100 square metres and protected it with mesh curtains, using technology to monitor its growth.

The next stage of the process is to repeat the experiment over a much larger area; perhaps up to several kilometres and although there are no guarantees it will work on a bigger scale, this trial is encouraging and is some of the best news the natural wonders have had in years.

The successful coral fertility treatment could spell long-term success for the Reef. Photo by Benedikt Juerges/Shutterstock

The team of scientists were lead by Peter Harrison who expressed hope this technology represented a huge win for environmental conservation. “The success of this new research not only applies to the Great Barrier Reef but has potential global significance”, he said in a statement. “It shows we can start to restore and repair damaged coral populations where the natural supply of coral larvae has been compromised.”

There will be no shortage of areas wanting to find large-scale application for this ‘coral fertility treatment’. At the current rate of increase, warmer seas are estimated to destroy 90% of the world’s coral reefs by 2050, causing havoc to the world’s entire eco-system, as well as the medicinal and tourism industry. Any kind of successful coral transplant will, of course, only buy time for the world to reduce its emissions and fossil fuel use on a more long-term basis but it is time desperately needed for these fragile wonders.