US philanthropists back coral crusader from Southern Cross

Coral embryos developing, as seen under the microscopeDeveloping coral embryos, as seen under the microscope (credit Peter Harrison).

Southern Cross University research into scaling-up coral reef restoration around the globe has received significant funding from the Paul G Allen Family Foundation.

Professor Peter Harrison has been awarded AUD$1.3 million to expand the impact of his pioneering Coral IVF technique.

The philanthropic organisation, named after Microsoft co-founder and innovator Paul G Allen who was at the forefront of last century’s boom in personal computers, has long supported the work of those preserving and protecting coral reefs from the impacts of climate change.

Paul G Allen Family Foundation grants totalling AUD$9.3 million (US$7.2 million) is shared between Professor Harrison and three other international projects to support action helping coral reefs survive the impacts of climate change.

“The rapid decline of coral reefs in the face of climate change makes finding adaptation techniques essential if corals are to survive,” said Jody Allen, co-founder and chair of the Paul G Allen Family Foundation (PGAFF).

“These grants build on the Foundation’s longstanding commitment to coral reefs and support of applicable, scalable solutions to protect them. We are at a critical juncture with coral reefs facing extinction and the world must continue to invest in actionable research that ensures their preservation and long-term survival.”

With the clocking ticking, this new suite of research grants is designed with a three-year timeline and focuses on applied solutions that can be deployed in the field by 2024.

The grants develop each researcher’s initial success and enables them to enter into phase two: turning innovative ideas into scalable, sustainable solutions for coral reefs.

It’s an opportunity for Professor Peter Harrison to refine his pioneering Coral IVF technique with a focus on enhancing the survival rate of juvenile corals to restore reefs. The PGAFF grant will be used to scale-up restoration of degraded coral reefs by clearing degraded reefs of seaweed, feeding coral larvae, and settling them in new designs.

“I’m excited to receive this essential funding from the PGAFF as they are a very important international organisation investing in innovation for scaling-up coral restoration practices globally, and the funds will allow me to further evolve the techniques to repair larger areas of damaged reefs,” said Professor Harrison.

“Most reefs around the world including the Great Barrier Reef have suffered immense damage from recent coral bleaching events, increased sediment and pollution and other human activities.

“As a result, many of the living corals have died and the dead coral skeletons haven been rapidly colonised by seaweed. When they become choked by seaweed, it is usually so thick there’s very little opportunity for coral larvae to a find suitable place to settle and grow.

“This new project will us to explore ways to remove some of the seaweed and replace them with juvenile corals with that will grow into vibrant healthy coral communities and re-establish the coral ecosystem.

“What we plan to do is grow hundreds of millions of larvae directly on reefs in the Great Barrier Reef then transfer those larvae to damaged areas and release them there to kickstart the recovery of coral communities.”

A reef at Geoffrey Bay, Magnetic Island, overgrown with seaweed and algae (credit Peter Harrison).

Professor Peter Harrison’s Scaling Restoration project is co-funded by the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation).

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