First Coral IVF Babies on Great Barrier Reef Have Produced Next Generation

The first Coral IVF babies on the Great Barrier Reef have produced the next generation—the first time that a breeding population has been established on the Great Barrier Reef using the innovative process.

Researchers have found that 22 large coral colonies born through the first Coral IVF trial on the Reef in 2016 have grown to maturity, and were filled with eggs and sperm ready to spawn after the recent full moon mass coral spawning event.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden said, “We couldn’t be more excited to see that these coral babies have grown from microscopic larvae to the size of dinner plates, having not only survived a bleaching event but are now reproducing themselves – helping to produce larvae that can restore a degraded reef.”

From the larvae deployed five years ago, these coral babies have grown from microscopic larvae to the size of dinner plates. Many of the dozens of other smaller colonies are not quite large enough to reproduce but should be breeding next year.

After discovering the potential of this game-changing technique, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation brought together its partners and the public back in 2016 “to give nature a helping hand” near Heron Island.

Lead Researcher and Southern Cross University Distinguished Professor Peter Harrison said, “Coral IVF is the first project of its kind to re-establish coral on damaged reefs by collecting millions of coral eggs and sperm during the spawning season, growing them into baby corals and releasing them directly onto degraded areas of the Reef.”

“This is a thrilling result to see these colonies we settled during the first small-scale pilot study grow over five years and become sexually reproductive.

“The ultimate aim of this process is to produce new breeding populations of corals in areas of the Reef that no longer have enough live corals present due to being damaged by the effects of climate change,” Prof. Harrison said.

“The larvae generated from these spawning corals have dispersed within the Heron Island lagoon and may settle on patches of reef nearby, helping to further restore other reef patches that have been impacted by climate change.

“This has given me and the rest of the team renewed enthusiasm as we research additional techniques on Lizard Island, through the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program in collaboration with CSIRO, QUT and with support from Australian Institute of Marine Science, that will enable us to scale up and optimize this technique.”

The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program is the world’s largest and most ambitious effort to develop, test and deploy at-scale protection, restoration and adaptation interventions to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs globally can resist, adapt to, and recover from the impacts of climate change.

“Saving the Reef is a huge task,” says Marsden. “But having proof that this innovative, cutting-edge science works gives us hope.”