How Marine Researchers Are Using Robots to Restore Our Coral Reefs

In 2018 during the Great Barrier Reef’s annual spawning event, the Queensland University of Technology deployed a “LarvalBot”. This submersible robot assisted the corals with their re-population process by deploying additional coral larvae off the reef and then replanting them during this event. The goal was to artificially add more larvae in order to increase the amount of corals that will ultimately grow during the natural spawning event. Because the reef is damaged in certain areas, there are less adult corals in those areas. This means that there is less reproductive activity which means either that those areas will not be able to be restored naturally for a long period of time or – they may not be able to be naturally restored at all. So essentially the robot is giving the coral reef the missing baby coral fragments that it needs in order to repair itself.

The LarvalBot – Image Source: Gary Cranitch

Even though in recent years there have been many discoveries of additional coral reefs that are absolutely thriving in the area, a major area of the reef is in need of assistance. Coral is an extremely important part of our ecosystem. Their symbiotic relationship with algae and reef fish are essential in ensuring that there is a good balance of CO2 in our atmosphere. They are responsible for creating the algae that helps to absorb it. Many species of fish depend on this algae in order to raise their young during the larval stages of their life. According to Coral.org, coral reefs absorb 25% of all of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. So they are kind of a big deal – which is why this is such a HUGE conservation win!

Coral Anatomy Diagram – Image Source: https://www.spectroscopyeurope.com/

What started in 2018 as an experiment to see if this was even possible has turned into a major coral restoration project that is now world wide! Here’s how it works: Professor Peter Harrison from Southern Cross University along with a team of scientists, collected millions of coral eggs and sperm. They then took them to an area in the ocean where they would be undisturbed in order to rear or raise them for about a week. This gives them a better chance at their ultimate survival by providing them an undisturbed environment to grow strongly in before being planted into a damaged area.

A diagram showing how the LarvalBot delivers the coral larvae to damaged parts of The Great Barrier Reef – Image Source: Known

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation and The Tiffany & Co. Foundation funded the development of the LarvalBot which helped to efficiently and effectively deliver the baby corals or larvae to the areas on the reef that need it the most. The LarvalBot was engineered by a professor of the Queensland University of Technology named Matt Dunbabin.

Professor Matt Dunbabin – Image Source: The Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Professor Dunbabin designed the LarvalBot to work like a crop duster does. It slowly surveys the coral reef while gently disbursing the larvae into the damaged areas giving it a chance to plant and grow in order to ultimately restore the area.

In 2020 it was reported that this method has been seeing success. More LarvalBots, along with other designs like this one that was engineered by Tobias Kaupp:

Tobias Kaupp preparing a new robot design into the Sydney Harbor that will collect data and identify damaged areas of the Great Barrier Reef – Image Source: Torsten Blackwood/AFP

will be deployed to reefs all over the world that require assistance. Even better news, they have already started and the results are very promising.

What reef would you like to see restored using this type of technology? Let me know in the comments section below. If you would like to support the Queensland University of Technology’s efforts, you can donate to their cause here: Save The Coral Reefs

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