Offshore nursery corals spawn for first time

By Candice Marshall November 14, 2022
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Four years ago Australia’s first offshore coral nursery was planted. Now, the corals are all grown up and have spawned for the first time.

The corals (Acropora) were planted in 2017 within Fitzroy Island’s Welcome Bay, part of the Great Barrier Reef.

Planted on a series of underwater frames, this site was part of a pilot program testing the benefits of offshore coral nurseries.

The eruption at the weekend of thousands of tiny pink bundles of eggs and sperm signals the program’s success.

“Watching our coral babies reproduce for the first time to create the next generation of corals was a beautiful and humbling experience,” says marine biologist and Master Reef Guide Azri Saparwan, who witnessed the event.

“We planted coral cuttings in a degraded patch of reef and these pioneer species have grown to around 1m in diameter helping to create a healthy and complex habitat for various corals and marine life,” adds Azri.

Marine biologists Azri Saparwan witnesses the coral spawning. Image credit: Reef Restoration Foundation

The design of the offshore nursery was modelled on techniques first used at reef restoration sites in Florida, USA.

“Cuttings at this site were taken from healthy corals and attached to ‘coral tree’ frames suspended underwater,” says Ryan Donnelly, CEO of not-for-profit organisation, Reef Restoration Foundation. “These cuttings grow faster in the nursery setting allowing us to then plant them onto hard substrate after about six months.

“Successful coral spawning will mark a critical threshold for Reef Restoration Foundation which was a start-up organisation building partnerships and supporters from nothing five short years ago.

“Coral spawning is our second goal after achieving a complex habitat as it means the reef is regenerating as nature intended.”

Azri Saparwan and fellow marine biologists planting the coral nursery back in 2017. Image credit: Reef Restoration Foundation

This spawning signals the start of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral spawning season, with the outer reef expected to reproduce next month.

Related: Coral spawning: a rare natural wonder