Coral nursery program expands to outer Great Barrier Reef

A coral nursery has been established on the outer Great Barrier Reef for the first time, with 10 ‘trees’ successfully established at the high-value Hastings Reef, 56 kilometres from Cairns.

The initiative is the next step in a project led by the Reef Restoration Foundation, which successfully pioneered coral nurseries at Fitzroy Island by growing coral fragments on frames.

Reef Restoration Foundation CEO Rob Giason said the not-for-profit organisation has partnered with Cairns family-owned Seastar Cruises to develop the nursery using corals that have previously withstood bleaching events.

“World coral expert Dr Charlie Veron led the process of selecting corals from the Acroporidae and Pocilloporidae families which survived the 2016 and 2017 bleaching events to use as stock for the nursery,” he said.

“A group of 25 volunteers worked over three days from December 6-7 to install 10 coral trees and attach the corals with another 20 trees to be installed at the site alongside two large coral bommies.

“These corals should take around eight months to grow to a size where they can be harvested and planted on degraded sections of the reef, just as we did at the Powershop Coral Tree Nursery at Fitzroy Island over the past two years.”

Seastar Cruises owner Peter Edwards said the coral nursery will provide an extra point of interest for passengers.

“Hastings Reef is stunning to visit with healthy corals and colourful marine life, but there are sections which have been damaged over the years by bleaching or cyclones that would benefit from speeding up the natural regeneration process,” he said.

“Passengers on Seastar Cruises are educated about the dynamics of the Great Barrier Reef’s complex ecosystem and having a coral nursery near our mooring will help them understand how reefs can evolve with the global challenges posed by climate change.

“It is also another way our tourism company and our dedicated staff can be involved in nurturing the World Heritage area that we work in.”

The Hastings Reef Nursery is the first of four outer Great Barrier Reef nurseries approved by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The next will be established at Moore Reef in April.

“We want to work closely with tourism operators to develop a viable business model to restore and maintain high-value coral reefs that can be expanded to other sites on the Great Barrier Reef,” Mr Giason said.

“The Great Barrier Reef supports a $6 billion a year tourism industry and approximately 40,000 tourism jobs, so this project aims to assist tourism operators to care for the health of the section of reef they operate in.”