An underwater brigade of ecologists, biologists and tourism operators recently donned their neoprene “uniforms” and united off the coast of Cairns, Australia to check the results of a four-year Coral Nurture Program that aims to protect high-value Great Barrier Reef sites against future extreme weather events.
Funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the program is a joint partnership between University of Technology Sydney (UTS) scientists and the Port Douglas-based Wavelength Reef Cruises.
Speaking from Opal Reef after wrapping up a two-week expedition last Friday, lead UTS researcher and coral scientist Professor David Suggett said the Coral Nurture Program was “an unprecedented success”:
“It’s been a year since we’ve been able to visit these specific reef sites and they are looking spectacular. We’ve had two years now of really great growing conditions. The coral is looking very vibrant. We are seeing lots more recruitment, so it gives us lots of positive encouragement that the (Coral Nurture) reef sites are recovering.”
“The collective action of operators planting tens of thousands of corals means we can now start to understand how, when and why coral replanting is successful. That is now feeding forward to new stewardship-based management for the Great Barrier Reef.”
The Coral Nurture Program began four years ago when John and Jenny Edmondson, both marine biologists and co-owners of Wavelength Reef Cruises set out to help tourism operators build reef resilience after experiencing the 2016 bleaching event. They have since recruited five other Cairns-Port Douglas reef operators into the Coral Nurture Program.
According to Jenny Edmonson:
“After the bleaching in 2016, it was difficult to come out here and see it all. We came up with ideas of how to have a cheap and fast way of out-planting large quantities of coral and thereby returning the sites back to what they used to be like. We are seeing a really amazing percentage of coral cover now simply because of both planting and natural recovery.”
The Coral Nurture Program is simple and low tech. Under the management of scientists, it relies on staff from reef tourism boats to maximize their reef visits and tend to coral nurseries while tourists enjoy the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef nearby.
For more info, check out the Coral Nurture Program website.