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The Marine Science Saving Our Backyard

The Great Barrier Reef protects Queensland’s important coastal infrastructure and provides more than $4 billion dollars and over 33,000 jobs to the Queensland economy. It is not news to any of us that due to recent mass bleaching events and the continuous effects of climate change, the reef is in dire need of assistance. 

However, The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), who are leading the reef recovery effort, are offering some promising developments with a new Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP) which to date, is the largest collaborative effort to help save the Great Barrier Reef. 

“AIMS have partnered with RRAP, which is a worldwide project designed to assist the reef to adapt and recover to the changing temperatures,” explains Kate Quigley, who is a Research Scientist at AIMS, specialising in genomics and coral reproduction. 

“We are in the process of developing a ‘toolbox’ that involves a range of biological and physical restoration ‘interventions’.

“This includes cooling and shading to help protect the Reef from the impacts of climate change, assisting reef coral species to evolve and adapt to the changing environment, and supporting natural restoration of damaged and degraded reefs.” 

The RRAP Program brings together some of the best minds in marine science, technology and engineering, and is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. 

“To achieve these interventions, RRAP will be working closely with the engineering and technology sectors to develop innovative deployment solutions that can be cost-effectively delivered at the required scales needed for the Great Barrier Reef,” continues Kate. 

“The AIMS long term monitoring team has been surveying the condition and status of the Great Barrier Reef for over 30 years. 

“From this data, we know that reefs can recover, but they need time, and the time between disturbances is getting shorter.”

Whilst many interventions are still in the development phase, Kate says there have been some promising advancements in a number of RRAP research projects, including selective breeding and using probiotics in corals. 

“The aim is to prevent or diminish coral bleaching and enhance coral survival to ocean warming. To do this, we can breed corals from warmer reefs with corals from cooler reefs to produce coral babies that have a temperature advantage under warming conditions, which is called selective breeding,” she continues. 

“Another method involves giving corals probiotics made from beneficial mixtures of the corals’ symbionts to help them recover from the stress of high temperatures. 

“Already we have been able to increase heat tolerance by up to 26 times in selectively bred baby corals and decrease bleaching mortality by 58% in those corals given probiotics.” 

Thanks to the innovation and investment of Townsville businesses, AIMS are able to safely manage the impacts of COVID. One example includes the chartering of Riverside Marine’s Magnetic Island vehicle barges, which has been adapted for reef research. 

“The opportunity provided by at-scale reef restoration and adaptation is a race against time,” says Kate. 

“It has enabled us to continue our important work assessing the impact of climate change on corals in a safe manner.” 

Despite this progress, Kate says the interventions resulting from the RRAP program are likely to still be required to sustain the reef long-term. 

“RRAP is capitalising on existing knowledge and aiming to provide a step-change in the cost and scale by which active interventions can be delivered on coral reefs,” says Kate.

“In addition to reducing emissions and continued best-practice reef management, our work in RRAP and other restoration programs may therefore still be needed to protect the Reef in the future.” 

“If we act without delay; if we begin the strategic R&D now, and commit our resources to the level of effort needed, we can stay ahead of the curve and develop feasible options to help protect the Great Barrier Reef from some of the effects of climate change.” 

For more information on The Australian Institute of Marine Science and the RRAP project click here.

By Georgie Desailly.

Georgie Desailly

Georgie Desailly

Georgie is BDmag’s resident writer who is passionate about entrepreneurship, sustainability and regional affairs. She is preparing to study with The School of The New York Times later this year before commencing her journalism qualifications.