Researchers achieve first out-of-season coral spawning, giving hope to Great Barrier Reef

Researchers have achieved out-of-season coral spawning for the first time in Australia.

The natural phenomenon occurs twice a year on the Great Barrier Reef, usually between October and December.

But under controlled conditions in a Townsville lab, coral have reproduced in the middle of winter.

Australian Institute of Marine Science senior aquarist Lonidas Koukoumaftsis said the breakthrough was two years in the making.

“Finally, this year we’ve managed to get 43 coral colonies to spawn six months before they are supposed to,” he said.

Researchers used artificial moonlight and controlled temperature on the samples from when they were eggs and sperm.

The environmental conditions the corals experienced in the lab were six months ahead of Great Barrier Reef.

“The corals that just spawned are sort of living in the future,” Mr Koukoumaftsis said.

The breakthrough means researchers at AIMS will have three opportunities to harvest offspring this year.

“We’re going to have a lot of opportunities to advance coral reproductive biology,” Mr Koukoumaftsis said.

“Normally we can only explore this once a year in the summer period.”

For postdoctoral research fellow Cathie Page, every coral spawning advances her research into increasing coral survivability.

“It allows us to apply our techniques in different months of the year, spread that research out, and fast-track our knowledge,” Dr Page said.

The long-term goal was for the Australian Institute of Marine Science to have coral spawning occur year-round in the Townsville lab.

Mr Koukoumaftsis said more opportunities to harvest coral spawn would strengthen restoration efforts on the Great Barrier Reef.

“At the moment we only have about two times a year we can generate these juvenile corals and then plant them on the reef,” he said.

“Possibly in the future we can increase that ability to restore the reef.”