A collaborative research project between the Tropical Water Quality Hub, AIMS, GBR Legacy and Cape York traditional owners is providing new insights into how and why corals survive bleaching conditions, opening up new avenues for coral resilience and restoration efforts on a warming Great Barrier Reef.
A Tropical Water Quality Hub research project led by Dr Line Bay at the Australian Institute for Marine Science is focused on the genetic characteristics of corals that have survived bleaching events.
Dr Bay and her team have been collecting corals from the northern Great Barrier Reef for two years with the support of GBR Legacy. At the National Sea Simulator facility near Townsville, they are crossbreeding the northern corals with others from the central section of the GBR.
The team has been investigating how young corals derived from northern GBR corals react to conditions similar to the central GBR – such as survival rates in cooler but warming water.
Preliminary results indicate that corals from warmer waters have a higher thermal tolerance, but bleaching events damage that resilience.
“The way it looks is that having experienced one or two severe bleaching events really causes lasting negative effects, and may take away some of the thermal tolerance from the corals,” Dr Bay said referring to research presented at the GBR Restoration Conference by Dr Carly Randall this year.
In a great example of researcher and stakeholder cross-collaboration at the heart of the NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub, the Project 4.4 team has worked with AIMS, non-profit GBR Legacy and Lama Lama traditional owners in Cape York to collect corals that were then spawned at AIMS during the latest spawning event.
“This collaboration is allowing us to extend the project and test the stress tolerance of these corals directly as opposed to just the genetic markers, which was the original scope.
“The Lama Lama traditional owners have been really great in granting us access and helping us out with operations – one of their rangers came out with us on the collection voyages which also helps them get sea hours toward their coxswains’ ticket, which is great.
“This project wouldn’t have been possible in the first place without NESP funding support,” Dr Bay said.