An innovative, multi-stakeholder reef restoration project that uses loose coral fragments to build new stable areas of live coral reef habitat kicks off this week at Green Island on the Great Barrier Reef.
The trial is a collaboration between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Mars Incorporated, Quicksilver Cruises and Big Cat Green Island Cruises, the Coral Nurture Program and Gungandji Traditional Owners.
It involves attaching more than 2600 coral fragments to a web of 165 hexagonal, sand-coated frames on the seafloor and connecting additional coral fragments to suitable hard substrate using coral clips developed through the Coral Nurture Program.
The live fragments will then continue to grow in their new stable location and, over the next one to three years, form a diverse and healthy area of live reef where previously there had been unstable dead coral rubble and bare limestone rock.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority CEO Josh Thomas said the project was an exciting example of in-water actions being used to restore and protect locally important coral reef ecosystems.
“Trialing coral restoration projects on the Great Barrier Reef is critically important to building the Great Barrier Reef’s resilience at a local level. By improving the Reef’s health and resilience, it will be able to better withstand a range of pressures, including from climate change,” he said.
“This project also provides training opportunities in reef restoration for Reef Joint Field Management Program staff. If successful, this restoration technique could be more widely adopted where other local-scale impacts occur from vessel groundings, anchor damage, or cyclone impacts at locally important tourist and recreation sites or areas with specific ecological values.
“This trial demonstrates the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s commitment to collaboration and innovation as highlighted in the Reef Blueprint for Resilience, which outlines key actions for empowering partners to help secure the future of the reef.”
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) acting regional director Tina Alderson said detailed site monitoring would be in place at the island.
“In addition to the ecosystem benefits, this trial is an excellent example of collaboration between tourism operators, marine researchers, private corporations and Traditional Owners,” she said.
“Local tourist operators will help monitor the project with initial results expected within 12 months, and data gathered and shared with all partners involved.”
Alicia McArdle, Marine Program Manager for Mars Sustainable Solutions said the metal reef-star structures were initially developed on Indonesian reefs, where they were successfully used to rehabilitate over four hectares of reef impacted by destructive fishing techniques.
“As a global business, Mars is committed to playing our part in identifying solutions to improve environmental outcomes in the countries where we operate. Having operated in Australia for over 100 years, we’re are excited to deliver Mars’ Assisted Reef Restoration System to Green Island and help protect the health and biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef,” she said.
This is the first work of its kind at Green Island, a popular tourist destination off Cairns, though these same techniques are also being trialled by Mars Sustainable Solutions at other reef locations in the Cairns area.
The trial at Green Island uses carefully prepared guidelines to protect the area’s ecological and social values. Initial results will be collected at six and 12 months, with further monitoring to occur over the next five years.
The scalable ‘reef star system’ to increase coral reef ecosystem resilience was pioneered by Mars Incorporated in 2011, in collaboration with local communities and marine scientists from around the world.