This Robot Is Delivering Coral Babies to the Great Barrier Reef
By Marlene Cimons
The climate is changing faster than many species can adapt, so scientists are trying to speed up evolution by fostering the spread of creatures who can take the heat. Think of it as natural selection with a little boost from humans—or, in some cases, robots.
To that end, Australian scientists Peter Harrison and Matthew Dunbabin recently teamed up for a world-first field experiment. A robot Dunbabin designed carried coral larvae that Harrison had gathered and dispersed them on part of the Great Barrier Reef. What makes these larvae unique and the groundbreaking experiment especially promising is that the they are heat-tolerant, meaning they not only can survive, but flourish, in warmer waters.
QUT's LarvalBot makes first delivery of coral babies www.youtube.com
Harrison had collected the larvae from corals that had survived deadly marine heat waves in 2016, 2017 and 2018. "These surviving larvae are likely to have greater ability to withstand heat stress as they survive and grow," Harrison said, meaning they could thrive in a warmer world.
Pollution from fossil fuels is heating up the planet, rendering ocean waters inhospitable for coral. Even in the more optimistic scenarios, virtually all of the world's reefs could be eradicated by mid-century. Ensuring the survival of these natural treasures will depend on cultivating more heat-tolerant corals. That's where the robot, called "LarvalBot," comes in.
"I first thought about the larval restoration concept some decades ago when I was part of the team that discovered the mass coral spawning phenomenon on the Great Barrier Reef in the early 1980s," said Harrison, director of the Marine Ecology Research Centre at Southern Cross University. "Literally billions of coral larvae are produced during mass spawning events from healthy corals, but as coral cover and health have declined to the point where too few larvae are produced from remaining remnant coral populations, we now need to intervene to give nature a helping hand."
The Great Barrier Reef.Wise Hok Wai Lum
Harrison had already developed techniques for mass spawn capture and larval rearing, but "one aspect that I still wanted to develop further was a more efficient larval delivery process onto the damaged reef areas, and so the LarvalBot concept developed from discussions with Matt."
The robot has the capacity to carry around 100,000 microscopic coral larvae per mission, and Dunbabin expects to scale up to millions. The robot gently releases the larvae onto damaged reef areas allowing them to settle and, over time, develop into full-grown corals.
"We call this the 'Swiss-army-knife' of underwater robots, as it was designed to do multiple tasks with customizable payloads, such as photo surveys, water quality monitoring, marine pest surveillance and control, and now coral larvae dispersal," said Dunbabin, a robotics professor at the Queensland University of Technology.
"Using an iPad to program the mission, a signal is sent to deliver the larvae and it is gently pushed out by LarvalBot," said Dunbabin. " It's like spreading fertilizer on your lawn. The robot is very smart, and as it glides along, we target where the larvae need to be distributed so new colonies can form and new coral communities can develop." The robot has an onboard vision system that allows it to "see" its way through reef environments, he explained.
LarvalBot dispersing coral larvae along the Great Barrier Reef.Gary Cranitch / Geat Barrier Reef Foundation / Queensland Museum
"We will be monitoring the survival and growth of juvenile corals as they appear on the reef," Harrison said. "We should start to see juvenile corals after about 9 months when they grow large enough to become visible on the reef."
Later this spring, the researchers plan to send the robot with more larvae to degraded reefs in the Philippines, then will aim for an even larger project on the Great Barrier Reef in late 2019.
One of the advantages of the robot is that it can also monitor the growth of coral reefs, which will help scientists understand how they respond to the larval delivery. This will be critical to scaling up the process. "We need to learn how to restore corals and reefs at larger scales very quickly," Harrison said. "During my lifetime I've witnessed continual degradation of reefs around the world, including parts of the Great Barrier Reef. This is incredibly sad and frustrating."
Dunbabin agreed. "Coral reefs are spectacular! Even now when I jump in the water and see all the fish and colors, I still am in awe of these eco-cities of connected life," he said. "I can't help but feel I need to do something to help restore them to what they were."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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By Jessica Corbett
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.
Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.
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