WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A newly developed submersible robot was tested at a reef in the Great Barrier Reef to seed corals with microscopic coral larvae.
- For the next six to nine months, researchers will have to wait and see if these larvae will grow into young corals.
- It is hoped that in the future, more underwater bots will be developed to quickly restore coral communities on a global scale.
An underwater robot developed by scientists from two Australian universities could be the answer to the constant battle of saving coral reefs at risk.
As a result of climate change, oceans are growing warmer and more acidic. Past studies showed that a substantial increase in coral bleaching events has been seen in recent years. In fact, nearly half of the corals that make up the Great Barrier Reef in Australia have died off in 2016 and 2017.
Peter Harrison, the leader of the coral restoration project and of the Marine Ecology Research Center at Southern Cross University said that “we’ve lost the ability to provide enough larvae to settle and restore coral communities quickly,” as a result of the reduced number of corals.
But with their newly developed invention dubbed LarvalBot, a briefcase-sized submersible, it is designed to move independently along sections of damaged reef while seeding them with countless microscopic baby corals.
“The idea here is to use an automated technique that allows us to target delivery of the larvae into damaged reef systems and increase the efficiency that new coral communities can be generated,” said Harrison.
LarvalBot was tested by Harrison’s team at the Vlasoff Reef which is found at the outer rim of the Great Barrier Reef along the northeastern coast of Australia. During the run, the robot scattered 100,000 baby specimens sourced from corals. These corals that remained alive during the 2016-17 bleaching event are believed to be particularly tolerant of warmer ocean temperatures.
However, results have yet to be seen in at least six to nine months where the researchers will see if the microscopic coral specimens will grow into juvenile corals. In the meantime, they will monitor the reef in the coming months, said Harrison.
In order to speed the regrowth of damaged reefs, Harrison hopes to develop a fleet of, and future versions of the bot that could be used to distribute millions of baby corals in reefs around the world. In addition, the team also plans on performing tests on a reef in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Maryland-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Watch program director Mark Eakin viewed Harrison’s project an ‘excellent idea’, however, he also doubted the bot’s effectiveness in addressing a global problem such as coral loss.
Eakin also said climate change is the root cause of the problem when salvaging coral reefs. “Even if this technology is scaled up, if we don’t deal with climate change, it won’t be enough,” he said.
Source: NBC News