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12 December, 2020

5000 corals in three years

Last Monday, December 7, the Reef Restoration Foundation (RRF) celebrated three years since the first of their coral nurseries was installed by volunteers at Fitzroy Island.

By Tanya Murphy

Cairns Local News

It was the first time such an intervention had been permitted on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), and since then, the not-for-profit start-up’s volunteers have transplanted more than 5000 semi-mature coral colonies at Fitzroy Island and Hastings Reef.

The first transplanted corals are now flourishing, providing habitats for fish and other marine animals.

RRF Chief Executive Officer Ryan Donnelly said reef restoration had been happening in other parts of the world for about 30 years, typically to repair dive tourism sites damaged by destructive fishing practices.

“Prior to 2017, the policy on the GBR was to allow the reef to recover naturally after disturbance,” he said.

“However, climate change has made coral bleaching and tropical cyclones more frequent, which means there is less time between events for reefs to recover. We are now permitted to employ methods that accelerate the natural process of recovery.

“Reef restoration projects like our coral trees are designed to build ecological resilience at the local site scale. They are suited for dive site stewardship and are not designed to restore the entire Great Barrier Reef.

“Importantly, no reef restoration technique is designed to replace the need for urgent action on climate change.”

At the RRF nurseries, volunteers cut off small fragments of healthy coral from large ‘donor’ colonies, and attach them to artificial ‘tree’ frames which are anchored to the bottom and float toward the surface.

The RRF’s methods have been subjected to rigorous scientific testing over the past three years by James Cook University’s TropWater and Reef Ecologic and the results, released recently, are very positive.

The study found that the RRF’s coral fragments grew twice as fast on the trees than on the sea floor, with less competition for space and sunlight, proving that the method is effective for speeding up coral recovery on a local scale.

After about six months of growth, volunteers transplant most of what are by then semi-mature colonies back onto damaged sections of reef using marine cement, while the remaining colonies are cut up into fragments and re-attached to the tree frame to begin the process again.

The RRF currently focuses on just ten species of hard corals, which are species that naturally grow quickly after disturbance events, providing a habitat for marine animals until other slower-growing corals can recover naturally.

The RRF is also looking at other methods of reef restoration, including re-planting pieces of living coral that have broken away from colonies through wave action, aiding recovery of corals from a wide range of species.

In future, the RRF have permits to set up additional coral trees at Moore Reef, with further research to be undertaken into best practices for optimising coral growth.

The RRF relies on corporate sponsorship and individual donations and has around 60 hard-working volunteers. They also receive logistical support from Fitzroy Island Resort and Seastar Cruises.

To volunteer or get involved, visit

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