Scientists start field tests with lab-bred corals on Barrier Reef

Scientists in Australia have begun first field tests with lab-grown, cross-bred “next generation” corals on the Great Barrier Reef, which has seen massive bleaching in recent years.
As part of the Assisted Gene Flow project, the young corals produced in a science lab by mixing the same species of corals from warm northern water with corals from the cooler central region were transplanted back on a site at the Great Barrier Reef.
The reef, off Australia’s north-eastern coast, is the world’s largest coral system — covering an area larger than Italy — and is one of most bio-diverse ecosystems on the planet.
But the northern reefs have faced massive ocean warming and saw back-to-back mass coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017 due to global warming, during which many died, casting doubt on the system’s resilience.
The southern reefs have been largely intact due to cooler water.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), a government research agency leading the project, said on Tuesday hundreds of juvenile corals have survived in a promising early test to help corals increase their resilience to marine heatwaves.
The corals were cross-fertilised in climate-controlled tanks at the agency’s National Sea Simulator in Townsville. The baby corals were then settled onto terracotta tiles and moved to GBR in March.
The seven-month-old corals have shown that such offspring inherit a tolerance for heat from their northern parents, said Kate Quigley,a marine scientist with AIMS.
She said they may pass on these heat tolerant genes in time and make reefs more resistant to future marine heat waves. — dpa