An undated handout photo taken by  ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies on April 10, 2017, shows a diver examining bleaching on a coral reef on Orpheus Island.  Picture: Greg Torda/AFP
An undated handout photo taken by ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies on April 10, 2017, shows a diver examining bleaching on a coral reef on Orpheus Island. Picture: Greg Torda/AFP

Mass bleaching threat: ‘IVF’ plan to help Reef

THE Great Barrier Reef is facing a mass bleaching event from an underwater heatwave as scientists work on "coral IVF" to help protect the living wonder.

As a record-breaking heatwave roasts coastal Queensland, early forecasts suggests the Reef may be in hot water this summer.

Under rising sea temperatures, there is up to a 60 per cent chance of coral bleaching by March, according to the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

But coral experts believe it is too early to predict any third unprecedented back-to-back mass bleaching on the iconic 2,300km-long Reef.

"We've just got to wait and see,'' Dr David Wachenfeld, chief scientist with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said.

"Those are very early models from NOAA, with a high degree of uncertainty, but the Bureau of Meteorology has also forecast a 70 per cent chance of El Nino.''

"We need more time to work out what might happen this summer."

Dr Wachenfeld hailed the start of the annual mass coral spawning event last night as positive signs of healthy recovery of a resilient system.

A supplied image of the biggest coral reseeding project deployed as Great Barrier Reef Spawns.
A supplied image of the biggest coral reseeding project deployed as Great Barrier Reef Spawns.


"It is the biggest planetary act of sex there is, it's absolutely unbelievable, a spectacle of nature, and an incredibly important time for the revival of the reef."

Scientists are harvesting millions of sperm and eggs from the spawning - known as the world's biggest sex show - to build a donor bank for "coral IVF" on the Reef.

Lead researcher Professor Peter Harrison hopes to use the collected coral larvae to re-seed damaged sections of the underwater treasure.

He believes the man-made coral fertility treatment may be a way to heal parts of the Reef damaged by mass bleaching events.

"This is the first time that the entire process of large scale larval rearing and settlement will be undertaken directly on reefs on the Great Barrier Reef," Professor Harrison said.

"Our team will be restoring hundreds of square metres with the goal of getting to square kilometres in the future, a scale not attempted previously."

In the waters off Cairns, large plastic silt curtains suspended under floating pontoons are used to scoop the milky film of coral spawn off the surface.

Global research teams at Vlasoff and Arlington Reefs believe the ambitious project has the potential for large-scale reef restoration and recovery.



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