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Biggest coral reseeding project launches on Great Barrier Reef

The researchers said Wednesday they plan to grow the coral larvae from the harvested eggs and return these to areas of the reef which have been badly damaged by climate-related coral bleaching.

"This is the first time that the entire process of large scale rearing and settlement will be directly undertaken on the Great Barrier Reef," said Peter Harrison of Southern Cross University, one of the project leaders.

"Our team will be restoring hundreds of square meters with the goal of getting to square kilometers in the future, a scale not attempted before," he said in a statement.

The "Larval Restoration Project" launch was timed to coincide with the annual coral spawn on the reef, which started earlier this week and will last only about 48 to 72 hours.

Coral along the large swathes of the 2,300-kilometer (1,400-mile) reef have been killed by rising sea temperatures linked to a process known as coral bleaching.

The northern reaches suffered an unprecedented two successive years of severe bleaching in 2016 and 2017, raising fears it might have suffered irreparable damage.

Harrison and his colleagues are hopeful their reseeding project can help reverse the trend, but he cautioned the effort will not be enough on its own to save the reef.

"Climate action is the only way to ensure coral reefs can survive into the future," he said.

"Our approach to reef restoration aims to buy time for coral populations to survive and evolve until emissions are capped and our climate stabilises."

The scientists hope that coral which have survived bleaching have a higher tolerance to rising temperatures so that a breeding population produced from this year's spawn will grow into coral better able to survive future bleaching events.

The researchers, who also include experts from James Cook University and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), said a novelty of their reseeding project was to grow coral larvae with microscopic algae. The two live in symbiosis on the reef.

"So we are aiming to fast track this process to see the survival and early growth of juvenile corals can be boosted by the rapid uptake of the algae," explained David Suggett of UTS.

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