Corals grown at Australia’s first offshore coral nursery have spawned for the first time.

The corals were grown on underwater frames at Fitzroy Island after the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority granted a permit for a pilot research offshore nursery in 2017.

The corals were planted on the Great Barrier Reef the following year.

The not-for-profit Reef Restoration Foundation said experts had recorded the event at the inshore reef, with the outer reef expected to reproduce next month after the full moon.

Marine biologist and reef guide, Azri Saparwan, helped plant the corals four years ago. He watched them spawn, saying he felt the glow of a proud parent.


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

“Watching our coral babies reproduce for the first time to create the next generation of corals was a beautiful and humbling experience.


Coral aquaculture expert, Cameron Bee, said the spawning is a significant milestone.

“We are facilitating reef recovery in a time when disturbances are more frequent and severe.

“Growing corals to create habitat is important but additionally taking them through to spawning is a milestone in our bid to maintain biodiversity.”

Reef Restoration Foundation CEO, Ryan Donnelly, said the project is a community effort that created the Fitzroy Island nursery and expanded to outer reef sites on Hastings and Moore Reefs.

"We receive no government funding and rely on the support of around 50 volunteers, with about one-third of these experienced divers working in the tourism industry.

“Cuttings at this site were taken from healthy corals and attached to coral tree frames suspended underwater, using techniques pioneered at reef restoration sites in Florida.

“These cuttings grow faster in the nursery setting allowing us to then plant them onto hard substrate after about six months.

“As these cuttings establish themselves, other coral species also become established and marine life, including invertebrates, colourful tropical fish, and turtles, become part of the habitat.

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

“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.


“But we are up for the fight. In a changing climate, it is all about buying time and selling hope.

“We need to drastically reduce global emissions, but at the same time work collaboratively to build the resilience of the places we love.

“We all have a role to play.”


Main points

  • Nursery grown corals spawn for the first time on Great Barrier Reef
  • The corals were grown on underwater frames at Fitzroy Island
  • Project helps reef recovery as it faces continuing challenges
The spawning was a showcase of how the Great Barrier Reef generates new coral recruits each year as part of its regeneration process.
Azri Saparwan
RRF marine biologist
The challenge for the Great Barrier Reef is far from over, with scientists telling us the water will continue to warm.
Ryan Donnelly
Reef Restoration Foundation CEO