Coral researchers have been slaving over a radical new project, rearing millions of coral babies.

Following the Great Barrier Reef’s famous mass ‘synchronised sex’ coral spawning event, the ‘Coral IVF’ team captured millions of coral sperm and eggs.

They took them to specialised pens where they were successfully reared and ‘turbo charged’ with algae symbionts, ready to replenish heavily-degraded sections of reef.

Southern Cross University’s Professor Peter Harrison said the team worked tirelessly, but their nocturnal project is paying off, now with millions of healthy coral larvae swimming around in six floating rearer pools ready to be dispersed and grow into new coral communities.

The pools turbo-charge the baby coral’s chance of survival through co-culturing with their algal partners (microscopic zooxanthellae).

“This innovative technique is like giving the baby corals a ‘battery pack’ by allowing the coral larvae to take up symbiotic algae, giving them the potential to acquire more energy, and therefore grow faster and survive better. If we succeed in increasing their survival rate it can make a big difference in being able to scale up future restoration processes,” Professor Harrison said.

UTS Associate Professor David Suggett performed the initial algal culture process, and in another exciting first for the project team, was able to track the uptake of these algae symbionts by the coral larvae in near real time using new optical sensors.

“This is a world first – our new sensors are so sensitive they are able track uptake and photosynthetic activity as the algae initiate symbiosis with the larvae. These algae give the larvae a metabolic boost that normally they would not receive until metamorphosing on the reef into baby corals,” Associate Professor Suggett said.

Project leader, Professor Peter Harrison, 90 sec clip from BIOPIXEL on Vimeo.