From the far reaches of the Torres Strait to the Capricorn Bunker, an ambitious fieldwork program on the Great Barrier Reef is uncovering new knowledge to help reefs recover and adapt to changing environmental conditions.
The Morrison Government’s $150 million Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP) has recently seen over 20 scientists from the Ecological Intelligence for Reef Restoration team take the plunge across 89 reference sites on 17 reefs in 6 regions to gather data that will support the reef.
Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said these extensive in-water efforts using state-of-the-art technology will provide long-term information on coral growth to inform adaptation efforts.
“Climate change is the greatest threat to all coral reefs worldwide, and this project underlines the Morrison Government’s commitment to working with world leading marine scientists to enhance the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef in the face of that, and to play a lead role in developing global strategies,” Minister Ley said.
“Our Reef Restoration and Adaptation program is at the cutting edge of reef science and this project saw up to 11 scientists at sea at any one time over 54 days of fieldwork.
“The installed data collection instruments, settlement tiles and oceanographic loggers to build a clear understanding of the capacity and speed at which reefs naturally adapt and recover.
“3D mapping surveys were also conducted to provide long-term data on coral growth at scale for both individual colonies and reefs, which will be vital in informing other RRAP interventions like coral seeding and coral shading.”
Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef Warren Entsch said the world’s best managed reef is helping lead the way in developing adaptive technologies that can also help other reefs globally.
“This is one of the natural wonders of the world and it’s vital we are doing all that we can to ensure long-term resilience and support local communities,” Mr Entsch said.
Dr Cedric Robillot of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation said the program is bringing together Australia’s leading experts to pioneer new solutions to help the reef resist, adapt to, and recover from the impacts of climate change.
“The ecological intelligence we’re gathering will fill gaps in our knowledge about the capacity and speed at which reefs can naturally recover from disturbances caused by the effects of climate change,” Dr Robillot said.
“This information is critical to help guide our researchers, and the world’s coral reef scientists, choose where and when to target restoration and adaptation efforts to support the Reef’s natural ability to grow and recover.”
Australian Institute of Marine Science scientist and project lead Dr Katharina Fabricius said the research is providing data to inform what type of reef restoration interventions would potentially help reefs in diverse settings.
“By re-visiting sites over time, we can track the survival and growth of corals with high precision and can determine how well reefs are recovering in different environments,” Dr Fabricius said.
“We are also conducting experiments to assess how well corals are reproducing and recolonising areas that have been damaged by disturbances.”
This flagship research is being supported by $7.12 million in funding through the Australian Government’s Reef Trust Partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
RRAP partners include the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, CSIRO, The University of Queensland, QUT, Southern Cross University and James Cook University.