27/11/2017 12:29 GMT

Coral Transplant Success Could Be A Ray Of Hope For The Great Barrier Reef

In 2016 coral bleaching killed more than a third of the Great Barrier Reef.

As you may have seen in Blue Planet 2, the Great Barrier Reef has an extraordinary ability to repair itself through a mass spawning that takes place every year.

The sad news however is that in most places we’re killing it faster than it can keep up.

Ho New / Reuters

Well now scientists have found a way to take advantage of the coral’s incredible regenerative abilities and in turn reverse some of the damage we’ve done through climate change.

A team of researchers from Southern Cross University have successfully collected coral spawn and eggs, grown them into larvae and then transplanted them into a region where the coral had been heavily damaged.

Upon returning in eight months time, the team found that the baby coral had thrived.

“The success of this new research not only applies to the Great Barrier Reef but has potential global significance – it shows we can start to restore and repair damaged coral populations where the natural supply of coral larvae has been compromised.” said Southern Cross University’s Professor Peter Harrison, lead researcher on the project.

Professor Harrison was in fact the co-discoverer some 30 years ago of this remarkable phenomenon whereby the corals are able to mate through a mass spawning that takes place just once a year.

Auscape via Getty Images

In 2016, the coral reef, which constitutes the world’s largest living organism, suffered the worst bleaching event in its 20 million year history.

It impacted over 90% of the reef and killed more than a third of its corals. Vast swathes of the reef were totally devastated.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chief Scientist Dr David Wachenfeld said: “It is vital everyone keeps working to address climate change and build the Reef’s resilience, and for restoration strategies to be developed that can work over large areas.

“We need to be more proactive and intervene to give the Reef a better chance and that’s why supporting leading-edge research like this is a priority for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Auscape via Getty Images

“The success of these first trials is encouraging – the next challenge is to build this into broader scale technology that is going to make a difference to the Reef as a whole.”

Other attempts to repair the corals include a technique called ‘Coral Gardening’ which involves breaking off healthy coral and trying to force it to reintegrate with bleached or damaged coral patches.

It is not without its risks though.

“Coral gardening is the most widely used technique in other reef regions but we know it is expensive and often doesn’t work very well and sometimes it fails completely,” explains Harrison.

By naturally rearing baby coral and then re-homing it, Harrison and his team believe they have a much better chance of naturally allowing the coral to regrow and heal.