New Scientist: Inside The Battle to Save the Great Barrier Reef from Climate Change

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Apparently the Great Barrier Reef is so dead from climate change it needs teams of well funded scientists to run around planting coral. Except for the embarrassingly healthy bits Peter Ridd photographed, of course.

Inside the fight to save the Great Barrier Reef from climate change

Our reporter, Donna Lu, joined the researchers who are attempting to regrow damaged parts of the Great Barrier Reef by collecting and incubating coral larvae

LIFE 6 January 2021
By Donna Lu

“I RECOMMEND getting inside the net. It’s very good for you,” jokes marine ecologist Peter Harrison. “It’s good for your skin, it’s good for your clothes.”

The net in question is a giant, slimy thing, with a fine mesh at its base that contains a precious cargo: coral larvae that have been incubating in the ocean for five days. Some white sun shirts have already fallen casualty to the net, getting coated in a greenish algal stain on contact.

The task on the boats today is to collect larvae from three floating nursery pools in Wistari Reef, where they have been maturing, and seed them onto damaged sections of reef that no longer have live corals. The net of each pool hangs from a square pontoon that is roughly 3 by 3 metres in size.

The team won’t be able to see the results of its handiwork for several years. The larvae have been captured from corals that have survived recent mass bleaching events, so the idea is that their offspring may also be more heat tolerant. The researchers hope to upscale the restoration across more sites in the future, using robots to disperse larvae more efficiently.

Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24933160-700-inside-the-fight-to-save-the-great-barrier-reef-from-climate-change/

I’m sure its loads of fun sailing around the Great Barrier Reef on the taxpayer’s dime, but I wonder how much harm the scientists may be causing?

Coral survived the last 200+ million years because of its genetic diversity. No matter what crisis or extinction event Coral experienced, some members of the species were genetically different enough from their peers to to survive and continue the species.

From 2018;

Genetic diversity is key to coral survival

18 April 2018

A team of Western Australian researchers is a step closer to understanding how coral reefs re-seed themselves and adapt to growing environmental threats.

Genetic diversity is critical to helping animal species adapt to change but this team from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Curtin University and the Western Australian Museum has for the first time, tracked genetic diversity in coral through time. 

In a novel study spanning 10 years, the researchers looked at the impact that coral bleaching and cyclones have had on the abundance and genetic diversity of a reef-building coral in northwest Australia’s reefs.

“Until recently, we did not know how genetic diversity actually responds to disturbance associated with climate change: in this study, we found that high levels of genetic diversity have been maintained in these corals over the last decade despite severe bleaching and cyclones” Dr Underwood said.

Read more: https://www.aims.gov.au/docs/media/latest-releases/-/asset_publisher/8Kfw/content/genetic-diversity-is-key-to-coral-survival

I doubt ecologist Peter Harris’ seeding efforts are going to make that much difference – the Great Barrier Reef is simply too enormous for the habitat to be significantly affected by a few patches of cultivated coral.

But surely every act of propagating one narrow slice of human cultivated genotypes at the expense of wild genotypes which might otherwise have thrived in the cultivated locations, in a small way undermines the very genetic diversity which is the key to coral’s long term survival. Even if the cultivars thrive in current conditions, their success will accelerate the depletion of the genetic diversity which the coral may need when conditions change.

It just seems wrong to undermine the genetic diversity which has protected coral through far worse events than anything we are likely to do to the planet, even if the impact of the intervention is likely to be negligible.

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January 9, 2021 at 12:17PM

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