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A reef reborn: Enhancing coral larvae survival to rebuild coral communities of the Great Barrier Reef New Project

Project Member(s): Matthews, J., Suggett, D.

Funding or Partner Organisation: Pure Ocean (Pure Ocean Fund)
Pure Ocean (Pure Ocean Fund)

Start year: 2022

Summary: Currently, less than 1% of baby corals survive the first year. This represents a critical population bottleneck and drastically limits the effectiveness of sexual coral restoration projects. Fats (lipids) are the powerhouses for coral larvae, making up 70% of their biomass and fuelling their dispersal and growth to adult corals. Until now, coral larvae were considered non-feeding, but innovative research from our team shows larvae can feed, and providing them with lipid foods during the delicate larval stage can increase survivorship by 46%. Our aim is scale up this research and enhance coral larval survival through the supplementation of an optimised lipid-cocktail in situ, to rapidly re-establish coral populations and restore the ecological functions of damaged reef sites on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). In partnership with the GBR tourism industry and management agencies, we propose to develop a mass larval enhancement and feeding approach, involving the collection, rearing, and feeding of millions of coral larvae directly on the GBR. This will catalyse reef recovery at tourism hotspots and high-value source reefs, where adult colonies survived recent local and global environmental stress events and can serve as resilient broodstocks. Our project primarily addresses Challenge 3 “Restoring and/or increasing the resilience...”, but also Challenge 1 and 2 via improved capacity to monitor changes in ocean life and molecules under different ocean characteristics and achieve improved sustainability of reef economies. In the latter case, we will resolve how our approach of coral larvae feeding provides previously untapped ecological and social reef resilience against future stressors. Increasing larval survival rate can make a big difference to sexual coral restoration initiatives around the globe, and our outputs will underpin key guidelines for researchers and management agencies for wider adoption of stakeholder-driven effective larval enhancement reef restoration.

FOR Codes: Rehabilitation or conservation of coastal or estuarine environments, Biochemistry and cell biology, Environmental marine biotechnology, Proteomics and metabolomics