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20 November, 2020

Coral Backup begins

A project to collect samples of all the world’s hard coral species and keep them alive in a Living Coral Biobank has begun, with the first 35 species collected from Vlasoff Reef near Cairns on Friday, November 6.

The world-first Living Coral Biobank Project team, led by non-profit organisation Great Barrier Reef Legacy, will preserve the genetic biodiversity of hard coral species by collecting and maintaining living samples of some 800 species, as well as tissue and DNA, as insurance in case of loss of coral species in the wild.

The first 35 species, which represent more than eight per cent of all coral species on the Great Barrier Reef, have been fragmented into smaller living pieces, microchipped and are being carefully looked after by Cairns Marine, until plans for a dedicated ‘coral ark’ facility in Port Douglas can be realised.

“With every coral bleaching event, we are losing the most vulnerable corals and coral reefs,” Project Director and Managing Director of Great Barrier Reef Legacy, Dr Dean Miller said.

“With three mass bleaching events in just five years, and more than 50 per cent of corals gone in the last few decades, we don’t have a moment to lose.”

Dr Miller said they were very lucky to have Cairns Marine on board as a partner, as they are a world leader in live coral collecting, husbandry and distribution.

“For the past 40 years we have been perfecting collecting, keeping and transporting corals so that people all around the world can enjoy them when they visit public and private aquariums,” Cairns Marine Director and CEO, Lyle Squire said.

“Now we are putting all this knowledge into keeping corals alive for their conservation and preservation.”

Once acclimated, the corals will be transferred to the project’s first official holding tank - a complete aquarium system and consumables donated by sponsor Red Sea Tanks, the leading manufacturer of reef Aquariums and water chemistry products worldwide.

Several fragments from different colonies of each species will be kept alive in different places as ‘backups,’ with thousands of public and private aquariums worldwide already signed up to look after fragments.

Dr Miller said the Living Coral Biobank Project did not replace but highlighted the urgent need to accelerate actions to reduce the impacts of climate change and local impacts on coral reefs for their long-term survival.

“The Living Coral Biobank compliments these efforts by providing us an insurance policy by preserving the full biodiversity of corals and make available living fragments, tissue samples and genetic material which is already in high demand,” he said.

“This will aid in research, restoration and resilience efforts to save coral reefs worldwide. To know we already have over eight per cent of Great Barrier Reef species safe and secured is an incredible step forward on our first day of collection.”

Corals of the World Director Dr Charlie Veron, also known as the “godfather of coral”, joined the project as one of few people worldwide that could identify corals to species level underwater.

“I’ve collected and identified coral species many times for science; this time I’m doing it for the coral’s very survival,” Dr Veron said.

“Without question this is the most important project we can be undertaking for corals and coral reefs and the most important project I have been involved with personally.”

Project partner Queensland Museum will use the 35 specimens and preserved DNA samples to better understand the coral’s genetic makeup, as well as creating a permanent record of the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef.

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