Great Barrier Reef mass coral spawning begins

This year's coral spawning at the Great Barrier Reef could be among the biggest in recent times, marine biologists say.
This year's coral spawning at the Great Barrier Reef could be among the biggest in recent times, marine biologists say. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SYDNEY • A mass coral spawning has begun on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, with early indications the annual event could be among the biggest in recent years, local marine biologists said yesterday.

Buffeted by climate change-induced rising sea temperatures and coral bleaching, the world's largest reef system goes into a frenzy once a year with a mass release of coral eggs and sperm that is synchronised to increase the chances of fertilisation.

Marine biologist Pablo Cogollos, from Cairns-based tour operator Sunlover Reef Cruises, said the first night of this year's spawning was notably "prolific" in a positive sign for the under-threat ecosystem.

"There was three times the volume of eggs and sperm compared with last year, when the soft corals spawned four nights after the full moon and it was deemed to be the best coral spawn in five years," he said.

The natural wonder, which has been likened to underwater fireworks or a snowstorm, occurs just once a year in specific conditions: After a full moon when water temperatures hover around 27 to 28 deg C.

Soft corals are the first to spawn, followed by hard corals, in a process that typically spans between 48 and 72 hours.

Coral along large swathes of the 2,300km reef have been killed by rising sea temperatures linked to climate change, leaving behind skeletal remains in a process known as coral bleaching.

The northern reaches of the reef suffered an unprecedented two successive years of severe bleach-ing in 2016 and 2017, raising fears of irreparable damage.

Scientists last year launched a project to harvest coral eggs and sperm during the spawning, from which they plan to grow coral larvae and use it to regenerate badly damaged areas of the reef.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2019, with the headline 'Great Barrier Reef mass coral spawning begins'. Print Edition | Subscribe