A WORLD-FIRST project that harnesses the power of IVF is being used to help bring more life to Whitsunday reefs.

Tourism operators together with researchers from the Great Barrier Reef Foundations have been replenishing corals IVF.

The IVF technique involves capturing eggs and sperm from corals that have survived bleaching.

Millions of baby corals are then reared in specially designed nursery pools before being transported to target areas of damaged reefs.

Southern Cross University Professor Peter Harrison said the project would help restore corals for years to come.

"The baby corals settle onto those reefs and in a few years, they will grow to dinner plate size and beyond," he said.

The IVF technique involves capturing eggs and sperm from corals and rearing baby corals in nursery pools. Picture: Great Barrier Reef Foundation
The IVF technique involves capturing eggs and sperm from corals and rearing baby corals in nursery pools. Picture: Great Barrier Reef Foundation

"They'll sexually reproduce and create their own coral babies, re-establishing the breeding populations on damaged reefs."

Workers from Kiana Sail and Dive, Ocean Rafting, Red Cat Adventures, and Southern Cross Sailing Adventures are all involved in the project and are learning how to use the IVF technique from their own boats.

In the future, these operators could lead the push to restore the reef during spawning events.

Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association president Sharon Smallwood said it was great to see those who were out on the water every day at the forefront of the initiative.

"Our marine tourism operators have a powerful connection to the Whitsundays' islands and coral reefs and feel strongly about protecting their patch," she said.

Researchers checking in on the larval pool where corals are being grown to help replenish the reef. Picture: Great Barrier Reef Foundation
Researchers checking in on the larval pool where corals are being grown to help replenish the reef. Picture: Great Barrier Reef Foundation

"Thriving coral ecosystems safeguard not just our precious underwater environment but also guarantee the future of sustainable tourism on the Great Barrier Reef.

"Based on the success of previous trials of this coral IVF technique, particularly on severely degraded reefs in the Philippines, we have high hopes of upscaling and accelerating our current restoration efforts, with tangible and inspiring results."

Tourism Whitsundays CEO Tash Wheeler said ensuring the future of the reef would be key in keeping visitation numbers high.

"The diversity between the outer and inner fringing reefs around our 74 islands is arguably one of the biggest tourism drawcards for the region," she said.

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"It is vital for the longevity of the tourism industry in the Whitsundays and Queensland, that our industry continues to lead the way in educating visitors and protecting the reef.

"As an industry, we have to ensure that we continue to innovate and collaborate to ensure we look after this delicate ecosystem."

This trial is part of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation's Reef Islands Initiative, the largest reef habitat rehabilitation project of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

The initiative is supported by funding from Lendlease, the Australian Government's Reef Trust, the Queensland Government and the Fitzgerald Family Foundation.


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