Coral Nurture Program

Established in 2018, the Coral Nurture Program is a new approach for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) that is initiated by a partnership between tourism and science.

The Coral Nurture Program was founded by myself, Professor David Suggett and John Edmondsdon of Wavelength Reef Cruises. Pilot work begun in 2018 at Opal Reef in close consultation with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. A core focus was in developing novel low-tech “coral restoration” tools (e.g., CoralClip®) and workflows to propagate coral at scale. In 2019, the official program was established as a new approach for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) that is initiated by a partnership between tourism and science. Our unique approach is not about “Reef Restoration” per se, but long-term stewardship and adaptation at economically valuable GBR locations; increasing available management tools beyond existing options to include planting corals. This does not just involve out-planting corals to boost live coral cover at reefs that have experienced a fall in cover, but also helps ensure reef sites with existing high coral cover that are economically valuable stay healthy.

The Coral Nurture Program does not claim to “Save the Reef”. The sheer size and complexity of the reef, as well as the cost of interventions, means that saving the reef is only possible with effective global action on climate change, in addition to continuing the existing management of fishing, runoff and Crown of Thorns starfish. However, continued increases in surface seawater temperatures that drive marine heat waves which cause coral bleaching events are likely to keep occurring, even if climate policy is improved quickly (though much less so than if global climate policy is ineffective). In the meantime, we are trying to develop the know-how to buy time at a scale that helps coral at the most valuable (ecological and economic) locations. Other people are investigating the feasibility of attempting reef-scale intervention and we anticipate that knowledge from this project can contribute to future decisions. Indeed, a focus on site specific management, as demonstrated in this program, is key to success at any scale.

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The Coral Nurture Program capitalises on the fact that tourism accounts for 89% of the economic revenue and provides 91% of the jobs created by the GBR. By utilising tourism vessel infrastructure, plus the knowledge, experience and skills of tourism industry personnel, interventions at tourism sites to either help recovery from an impact, or help adaptation to climate change, can be targeted to the exact need at each site, and be undertaken far more cheaply and efficiently than alternative options. In addition, tour operators are uniquely placed to share knowledge with the 1000’s of visitors visiting the GBR each day, enhancing the capacity for increasing public awareness in the activities occurring to aid the GBR.

As of February 2021 over 20,000 corals have been out-planted, with targets of 100,000 over the next four years.