Australia's First Nursery Grown Coral Successfully Planted On Great Barrier Reef

It's a step forward for reef regeneration, but the battle still looms large ahead to save the reef.

Australia's first nursery-grown corals have been planted on the Great Barrier Reef in a bid to help the reef recover from recent bleaching events.

The Reef Restoration Foundation, a not-for-profit social enterprise based out of Cairns, planted 100 corals onto damaged areas of fringing reef around Fitzroy Island.

The project was the first to be granted a permit to take coral cuttings in December last year, at which time volunteer divers collected 24 corals and cut them into 246 pieces.

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In the short time since and despite lower levels of sunlight due to a heavy wet season, the growth of the coral pieces exceeded researchers' expectations.

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The coral trees on which the cut-offs are grown. Image: Provided

“These were attached to coral tree frames in the underwater nursery and monitored weekly with many of the corals growing two-and-a-half times their original size in just six months," Reef Restoration Foundation Chief Executive Officer Stewart Christie said.

Christie explained the coral grows up to seven times faster while hanging on the underwater tree frames than it does while on the reef, due to its ability to use all its energy on growing rather than fighting off pests or algae.

The local fish seem pretty happy with their new coral landscape. Image: Provided

While the initiative is currently operating to help high-value tourism reefs within the World Heritage area, Christie and his team hope future results will allow them to take the method to the rest of the reef.

“We are working to expand the program at other high-value reef sites and are looking at options for the public, community groups and businesses to be involved in helping this amazing environmental, economic and cultural asset," Christie said.

“Reef Restoration Foundation’s goal is to grow 25,000 new corals on the Great Barrier Reef by 2021 as part of our vision to accelerate the recovery of damaged high-value reefs and strengthen the Reef’s resilience.”

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The coral fragments were planted back on to the reef where they will continue to grow. Image: Provided

While a commendable goal, the realities of reef regeneration will offer up sizable challenges.

"One of the problems with growing coral fragments is really not the growing of the coral fragment -- it's the scale-up," Director of the Global Change Insititute and Professor of Marine Science Ove Hoegh-Guldberg told Ten Eyewitness News.

"Places like the GBR are huge and so trying to cover that with coral fragments is a challenge...while not all of it's coral, the whole place is as big as Italy and so really what you're trying to do is to grow vegetable patches all over, you know, Italy."

Hoegh-Guldberg said while this "out of the box thinking" is great to see and may very well contribute to the solution, if the Great Barrier is to be saved on a large and lasting scale, it's climate change that must be addressed.