The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
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.
- Scientists Discover 'Most Diverse Coral Site' on Great Barrier Reef ›
- Great Barrier Reefs Resist Back-to-Back Bleaching Events Through ... ›
- Great Barrier Reef ›
- Reef Rangerbot becomes 'LarvalBot' to spread coral babies - YouTube ›
- Scientists test underwater “LarvalBot” in effort to rebuild coral reefs ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Wolves and Jaguars Are Already Threatened by Border Razor Wire As Trump Vetoes Bid to Block Emergency Wall Funding
President Donald Trump issued the first veto of his presidency Friday, overturning Congress' vote to block his national emergency declaration to fund a border wall that environmental advocates say would put 93 endangered species at risk. However, the president's decision came the same day as an in-depth report from UPI revealing how razor wire placed at the border in the last four months already threatens wildlife.
Yet another whale has died after ingesting plastic bags. A young male Cuvier's beaked whale was found washed up in Mabini, Compostela Valley in the Philippines Friday, CNN reported. When scientists from the D' Bone Collector Museum in Davao investigated the dead whale, they found it had died of "dehydration and starvation" after swallowing plastic bags―40 kilograms (approximately 88 pounds) worth of them!
By Joe Sandler Clarke
"Don't expect us to continue buying European products," Malaysia's former plantations minister Mah Siew Keong told reporters in January last year. His comments came just after he had accused the EU of "practising a form of crop apartheid."
A few months later Luhut Pandjaitan, an Indonesian government minister close to President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, warned his country would retaliate if it was "cornered" by the EU.
By Luis Torres
For some people who live along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump's attempt to declare a national emergency and extend the border wall is worse than a wasteful, unconstitutional stunt. It's an attack on their way of life that threatens to desecrate their loved ones' graves.
At least 150 people have died in a cyclone that devastated parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi over the weekend, The Associated Press reported Sunday. Cyclone Idai has affected more than 1.5 million people since it hit Mozambique's port city of Beira late Thursday, then traveled west to Zimbabwe and Malawi. Hundreds are still missing and tens of thousands are without access to roads or telephones.
"I think this is the biggest natural disaster Mozambique has ever faced. Everything is destroyed. Our priority now is to save human lives," Mozambique's Environment Minister Celso Correia said, as AFP reported.