Trials of a novel low cost device to help the rapid replanting of coral are taking place on the Great Barrier Reef. (Usage rights limited to use with Reef Guardian story)
Trials of a novel low cost device to help the rapid replanting of coral are taking place on the Great Barrier Reef. (Usage rights limited to use with Reef Guardian story) David Suggett

'Gardening' the reef, one tour at a time

LOW-COST devices could be the key to encouraging new coral regrowth, and tourism operators could be the Great Barrier Reef's ecosystem guardian gardeners.

The new technology, developed by the Future Reefs research program within the UTS Climate Change Cluster, allows coral fragments to quickly secure to the reef. Marine biogeochemist and team member Dr Emma Camp said growing new reefs, or "reef gardening” used to be costly and unscallable.

The new device, Dr Camp said, allows coral fragments to be replanted at a rate "10-20 times faster than previously possible”. Rather than remain in the lab, the research team has partnered with Great Barrier Reef tourism operators to become coral gardeners.

For the past 12 months a symbiotic relationship has developed between the laboratory and tourism operators like Port Douglas-based Wavelength Reef Cruises. In Opal Reef, near Port Douglas, the project has resulted in over 5000 coral out-plants. The next stage of the project is aiming for tens of thousands of corals to be planted at five different Cairns and Port Douglas tourism sites over the next 12 months.

But the team looks to scale up their project, the researchers aim to work with tourism operators across the reef.

Team leader and associate professor David Suggett said the project was about empowering tourism operators to become custodians of their environment.

"Although as much as 90% of the 'reef value' comes from tourism less than five percent of the reef sites are used for tourism,” he said.

"It's important to protect this small percentage, and one way of doing that is to help tourist operators secure the future of their sites by giving them tools for reef custodianship so that they can build capacity.”

The ability of tourism operators to protect their reef was previously limited to removing the invasive crown of thorns starfish√.

By working with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and using these low-cost devices operators can help re-grow the reef substrates with targeted coral out-planting.

For Wavelength Reef Cruises operator John Edmondson partnering with the researchers has allowed him to protect his vulnerable patch of the reef.

"(It) provides (the) means not only to maintain existing good quality reef sites but also aid those impacted by coral bleaching, storms and crown of thorns starfish,” Mr Edmondson said.