Australian researchers are rushing to study the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) as an annual coral spawning event occurs.
The spawning, whereby the coral that makes up the iconic reef simultaneously mate and give birth, offers scientists a narrow window to analyze the health of the reef.
The process is caused by warm water temperatures and the full moon. It usually only occurs once a year but experts are optimistic there could be another event in December.
Line Bay, a senior researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS), said that the event was the most important day of the year for GBR researchers.
“Coral spawning is like Christmas for coral biologists,” Bay told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Friday.
Individual coral species tend to have a certain time when they will spawn, so we have our team ready to collect the spawn when it happens.
“Then we can actually separate the eggs and the sperm, and we can cross them and produce these new families of corals that we can then rear in the lab.”
Samples collected will be taken to the AIMS National Sea Simulator, the world’s largest and most advanced research aquarium, where scientists will work around the clock to observe them using only red lights.
“What it allows us to do is to change the conditions, to simulate any possible future conditions, so we can immediately and in real time and to a very high degree of accuracy, change temperature, salinity, pH,” AIMS Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paul Hardisty said.
“We can add various contaminants to waters, we can simulate dredge plumes, we can simulate introductions of various chemicals and so on, and we can literally see how corals respond under these future scenarios.”
Bay said that the current focus was on discovering why some species of coral are better at surviving in warm water than others.
She said that the findings could change the approach to managing coral populations for decades to come.