great barrier reef

The Great Barrier Reef

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An Australian conservation team is compiling a comprehensive living biobank of coral species, in case we need to rebuild the world’s reefs in future.

The Living Coral Biobank plans to collect and house more than 800 species of the world’s hard corals in a dedicated facility in Port Douglas, northern Australia.

The biobank is a biodiversity insurance policy, says Dean Miller, director of the Living Coral Biobank Project.

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“We’re keeping this living stock of corals alive should we need to use them for restoration and rehabilitation activities,” says Miller, adding that having to replant coral reefs is a “worst-case scenario”.

The Great Barrier Reef has experienced three mass bleaching events in the past five years, which has been especially catastrophic in the northern part of the reef. The reef has lost more than half of its coral colonies since 1995.

Starting on 6 November, the team will begin to collect living fragments, tissue and DNA samples of corals from the Great Barrier Reef. On its first expedition, the team will identify and gather specimens of 20 coral species – 5 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef’s 400 species.

A purpose-built facility to house the coral samples is planned for completion by 2025. In the meantime, they will be kept in holding tanks in Cairns.

As a back-up, corals will be stored in various public and private aquariums around the world. Samples from the first expedition will be additionally housed by one public and 10 private aquariums in Australia. The team hasn’t yet announced a detailed timetable for subsequent expeditions.

Under favourable conditions, corals can live for thousands of years, says Miller.

Corals can produce both sexually and asexually. Under asexual reproduction, they bud and produce clones of themselves. “We anticipate that the corals will double in size every six months, so effectively the biobank collection will double every six months,” says Miller.

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source: newscientist.com

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