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Every year in the late spring season, the Great Barrier Reef ushers in a peaceful grand scene.
Under the adjustment of the moon phase, sea water temperature and other factors, many corals release their gametes (sperm and egg) almost synchronously, forming a peaceful and spectacular “sea snow”. These “snowflakes” containing germ cells float to the sea surface, combine with fertilization, and develop into larvae of coral polyps. After a few days to several weeks, these floating larvae will settle down on the seabed and gradually grow to form new coral groups.
(Photo source: theconversation.com)
At the same time, the scientists also acted. The spectacular spawning period is a good time to collect samples for coral research, and this time, the researchers also have an important task: testing an underwater “seeding robot”. This robot named “LarvalBot” dives underwater with coral larvae, looking for the parts of the coral reef most in need of repair, and gently spreads the larvae there.
As climate change intensifies, many species are facing a crisis of survival, and among them corals probably belong to the worst group. Coral reefs are very sensitive to the temperature of seawater. Excessively high temperatures have frequently caused large-scale coral bleaching in recent years, causing damage that has far exceeded the speed of ecosystem restoration.
In order to protect corals, it is not enough to take measures to control the climate. We also need faster and more direct means. So, scientists began to study the method of “assisted reproduction” for corals. They first collected a large number of coral eggs and put them in a floating fence surrounded by a fine net to raise them. Wait for the coral larvae to grow to 5-7 days old, and then use robots to assist in “seeding”. This should allow the higher-density coral larvae to be exposed to the locations most in need of repair, so that the larvae have a greater chance to settle here and grow into new coral communities. Moreover, these larvae are descendants of corals that survived several bleaching events, so they should also be relatively more heat-resistant.
The predecessor of the LarvalBot robot is called RangerBot, and this robot is also called “Swiss army knife for the Reef” by researchers. It is indeed as versatile as a Swiss army knife, not only can it monitor the water quality and coral bleaching, but also be responsible for hunting those spiny crown starfish that damage coral reefs (Acanthaster planci). Of course, the starfish hunter is now diverted and started to send the son Guanyin, everything is to maintain the health of the coral reef.
(Professor Matthew Dunbabin of Queensland University of Technology and RangerBot robot. Image source: Great Barrier Reef Foundation)
At the end of 2018, the researchers had completed the first round of coral “seeding” tests, and in the next few months, they will closely monitor the movement of these coral insects. In 2019, the research team will continue to improve the technology in preparation for a larger “seeding”.
This “seeder” does not solve all problems, but I hope it will win enough time for the coral reef to adapt to the environment.
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