Scientists freeze coral to restore Australia’s Great Barrier Reef
Image credit: Pixabay
Australian researchers have been able to successfully trial a new method for freezing and storing coral larvae they say could eventually help rewild reefs threatened by climate change.
In a world first, the team at the Great Barrier Reef has been able to cryogenically freeze and store coral, with a new lightweight "cryomesh" that is cheaper and more efficient than current methods, Reuters has reported.
In a December lab trial, scientists used the cryomesh to freeze coral larvae at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). The coral had been collected from the reef for the trial, which coincided with the brief annual spawning window.
"If we can secure the biodiversity of coral … then we'll have tools for the future to really help restore the reefs, and this technology for coral reefs in the future is a real game-changer," Mary Hagedorn, a senior research scientist at Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, told Reuters.
Coral reefs are among the Earth’s most productive ecosystems and provide essential nutritional and protective services to people across the globe.
Although coral reefs are only 0.2 per cent of the seafloor, they support at least 25 per cent of marine species and underpin the safety, coastal protection, wellbeing, food and economic security of 450 million people in over 100 countries, according to Our World In Data.
However, coral reefs are very vulnerable to changes in temperature and pollution. In the last seven years, the Great Barrier Reef has suffered four bleaching events, including the first ever bleach during a La Nina phenomenon, which typically brings cooler temperatures.
Currently, it is estimated that over 200 coral species are at risk of extinction.
The mesh technology, which will help store coral larvae at -196ºC was devised by a team from the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering, including Dr. Zongqi Guo, a postdoctoral associate, and Professor John C Bischov. It was first tested on corals by PhD student Nikolas Zuchowicz.
Although the method was proven to be successful, it also required sophisticated equipment including lasers. Now, scientists say the cryomesh can be manufactured cheaply and in a way that better preserves coral.
“This new technology that we’ve got will allow us to do that at a scale that can actually help to support some of the aquaculture and restoration interventions,” said Jonathan Daly of the Taronga Conservation Society Australia.
The cryomesh is currently being trialled on different-sized varieties of Great Barrier Reef coral.
The trials involved scientists from AIMS, the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and the Taronga Conservation Society Australia as part of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program.
Over the last few years, scientists all around the world have been working to develop solutions that would help preserve delicate coral ecosystems.
In April 2022, Israeli researchers placed 3D-printed coral reefs in marine environments to help curb global reef devastation. A month later, the University of Exeter presented an artificial intelligence tool that was said to be able to track the health of coral reefs by listening to their "song".
In August, Australian researchers used a dental scanner to study coral size and growth that reduces surveying time by 99 per cent, after noting the similarities between coral and human teeth.
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