In the waters off the northeastern coast of Queensland, Australia, a unique collaboration between science and tourism is unfolding to safeguard the Great Barrier Reef from the impacts of climate change. The Coral Nurture Program, a joint initiative involving six commercial operators in the northern reef, aims to rehabilitate marine habitats using innovative techniques and technology.
Wavelength Reef Cruises, a key participant in the program, conducts daylong research outings alongside scientists from the University of Technology Sydney. Visitors witness live experiments, such as rapid stress tests on coral fragments, designed to simulate the warming waters that have led to coral bleaching. This blend of research and commerce provides tourists with an immersive experience, where they snorkel and dive while learning about the ongoing conservation efforts.
The Coral Nurture Program, launched in 2018, utilizes masonry nails and Coralclips to attach coral fragments to damaged bommies (reef outcrops). The program’s founders, including marine biologist John Edmondson, have successfully planted over 70,000 corals, with an impressive 85 percent survival rate. The planted corals began spawning in November 2021, marking a significant milestone in reef restoration.
To comprehend and defend the reef, scientists focus on understanding its intricate ecosystem. Five mass bleachings since 1998 have led to the loss of half of the Great Barrier Reef’s live corals. Scientists, including Professor David Suggett and marine biologist Johnny Gaskell, emphasize the importance of fundamental research to aid reef recovery.
Gaskell, based in the Whitsunday Islands, employs “coral IVF” and larvae management techniques to restore reefs damaged by events like Cyclone Debbie in 2017. Partnering with sustainable tour operators like Ocean Rafting, Gaskell is determined to revitalize damaged sites.
The resilience of corals, as exemplified by the story of “Steve,” the first coral planted by Gaskell, offers hope for the future of the Great Barrier Reef. Despite facing cyclones and bleaching, Steve thrives, symbolizing the success of coral restoration efforts. The collaborative endeavors of scientists, tourism operators, and conservationists aim to ensure the ongoing vitality of this natural wonder.