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Research

 

With daily access to the Reef, Reef Biosearch has the unique opportunity to conduct research programs and initiatives.  This has resulted in a variety of projects over many years including environmental impact programs and investigations into tourism operation effects on reef fish populations, coral communities and water quality. Collaborative research partnerships and long term monitoring are vital to the preservation of the reef. Reef Biosearch teams are involved in a number of coral reef research projects, specifically coral restoration and nurturing projects.

Coral Recruitment Research

Timed to coincide with the annual coral spawning (November – December), this coral recruitment research project is co-ordinated by James Cook University TropWATER (Cairns-Port Douglas Reef Hub Coordinator).

The Reef Biosearch teams placed 60 special recruitment tiles at some of our key sites at Agincourt Reef, Moore Reef and Flynn Reef. Following the mass spawning event, the tiny eggs settled onto the tiles. After retrieval some months later, it’s off to the lab for the tiles where they are analysed for coral larval growth and dispersal. This research will help understand the connectivity of the reefs where the larvae originated, quantify coral settlement and identify classification (where possible). It also has established a regional network to monitor relative coral recruitment throughout the Cairns-Port Douglas region.

What is coral spawning? Fun and interesting FAQs with Reef Biosearch Manager Russ.

Coralpalooza™

Coralpalooza™ is the biggest international day of collaborative action for coral reefs and building resilience to climate change.  For the first time in 2023, Australia participated in the event, partnered by The Great Barrier Reef Foundation and Coral Nurture Program with the aim to assist recovery and research at high-value reef locations. Reef Biosearch joined the global event celebrating World Oceans Day by out planting hundreds of coral fragments at a Green Island dive site.

It is very satisfying to take part in something so important with a global impact. As Coral Nurture Program partners, we planted around 330 coral fragments at our Green Island “New York” dive site.

On a healthy reef, it’s normal to have some broken coral so these “fragments of opportunity” were first collected and then attached to coral colonies using an innovative CoralClip® that allows them to be planted quickly and with good survival rates.

 

Coral Diversity

A recent survey conducted at Quicksilver’s Agincourt Reef 3 site revealed remarkable coral diversity. With over 100 different species of corals documented (and still counting), this represents around one-quarter of all hard corals found on the Great Barrier Reef in one place. This highlights what we’ve always known, that Agincourt Reef is a very special place! With each species individually photographed and recorded, the diversity count is still ongoing.

This research is conducted as part of GBRMPA’s Tourism Reef Protection Initiative and forms a part of our stewardship plan for protecting our beautiful patch of the Great Barrier Reef for future generations.

Monitoring & Eye on the Reef

Consistent environmental observations and monitoring of our reef sites gives an excellent understanding of site specific changes and any impacts. We participate in recognised programs such as the GBRMPA’s Eye on the Reef, Coral Watch and report whale sightings to assist valuable research.

With the Eye on the Reef program, trained staff record observations that enable findings to become part of regional and international information networks. It also provides GBRMPA with excellent real time awareness of reef health at high value tourism sites.  This voluntary program which is completed by tourism operators the length of the GBR gives the natural area managers an understanding of what is happening on a reef wide basis and alerts the Authority to interesting and unusual occurrences as well as changes in the coral and fish communities.

Survey Snorkeller at Agincourt Reef looking at camera

Some past research includes…

  • Jellyfish: Reef Biosearch has been involved in jellyfish research for a number of years, working in conjunction with the Surf Lifesaving Association of Australia, in an effort to identify their movements and develop an antivenin for the cubomedusae jellyfish Irukandji.
  • Reef Shade Project: This innovative project conducted at Agincourt Reef by Reef Biosearch and CRC Reef Research was aimed at researching the effect of temperature and light intensity, and the benefit of shading corals to reduce the impact of coral bleaching. Shade structures of 5 metres square supported by a perimeter of floats were anchored to lightweight moorings to ensure no impact on surrounding corals. Laboratory-based studies conducted by University of Queensland demonstrated bleaching and coral mortality can be reduced by up to 4 times if corals are shaded during times of high heat stress.
  • Nutrient Levels: Phosphates and nitrates washing from coastal lands to reef waters can lead to an increase in algae growth and the death of coral as a result of Eutrophication. Reef Biosearch was an integral part of the first comprehensive water quality monitoring exercise in the marine park in conjunction with GBRMPA, Australian Institute of Marine Science and University of Queensland. Phytoplankton, nutrient and chlorophyll levels were assessed in waters from Port Douglas to the outer edge of the barrier reef at a series of sites. These results enabled the determination of long term trends in water quality and large scale spatial variation, as well as creating a baseline against which future trends are judged.
  • Giant Clams: Another major study undertaken investigated giant clam populations and the causes of occasional mass mortalities. Clams in a variety of reef areas were mapped and tagged to assess survival and growth of existing populations.