- New corals have been found to be spawning in the Great Barrier Reef.
- Spawning is a way in which corals reproduce, despite them typically reproducing asexually.
- This year, billions of babies were born, which came as a shock to scientists.
- The Great Barrier Reef has been under threat from extinction for decades.
- Climate change has severely impacted the ocean's ecosystems, so seeing corals spawning gives scientists hope.
The news is full of dire warnings about the future and current health of the Great Barrier Reef, but the World Heritage Site is not dead yet.
"Nothing makes people happier than new life, and coral spawning is the world's biggest proof of that," Reef Teach principal marine scientist Gareth Phillips said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch.
Have you read?
Coral spawning is one way in which corals reproduce. During most of the year, the jellyfish-like animals reproduce asexually. But, once every year, they send tiny balls containing sperm and eggs up into the water. These balls break apart, the sperm and eggs bump into each other and new coral babies are born.
Phillips has spent the past 10 years watching coral spawning, which typically occurs at night when there are fewer predators. This year, billions of babies were born, and the display was uniquely impressive.
"I've seen the corals all go off at once, but this time there seemed to be different species spawning in waves, one after the other. The conditions were magical with the water like glass and beautiful light coming from the moon," he said.
What's the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?
Our ocean covers 70% of the world’s surface and accounts for 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. We can't have a healthy future without a healthy ocean - but it's more vulnerable than ever because of climate change and pollution.
Tackling the grave threats to our ocean means working with leaders across sectors, from business to government to academia.
The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, convenes the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of leaders working together to protect the seas. From a programme with the Indonesian government to cut plastic waste entering the sea to a global plan to track illegal fishing, the Friends are pushing for new solutions.
Climate change is an inextricable part of the threat to our oceans, with rising temperatures and acidification disrupting fragile ecosystems. The Forum runs a number of initiatives to support the shift to a low-carbon economy, including hosting the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, who have cut emissions in their companies by 9%.
Is your organization interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.
Phillips said he first observed Acropora, or branching corals, release pink-mauve balls and then Porites, or boulder corals, releasing what looked like a plume from a flooding river.
The millions of new coral babies are good news for the reef after a difficult few years. The climate crisis has had a severe impact on the 2,600 kilometers (approximately 1,616 miles) of coral as warmer than usual ocean temperatures encourage coral bleaching, when the coral expel the algae that give them both nutrients and color. The reef suffered back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, and again in 2020. A recent study found that the five mass bleaching events since 1998 had left only two percent of the reef unscathed.
However, the spawning gives the scientists who observed it hope for the vulnerable ecosystem.
"It made me so excited about the future – there is just so much potential for this reef," marine science student Nicole Rowberry said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch.
Phillips also observed that the spawning occurred as Australia is emerging from 18 months of border closures due to the new coronavirus.
"It is gratifying to see the reef give birth. It's a strong demonstration that its ecological functions are intact and working after being in a recovery phase for more than 18 months," Phillips said. "The reef has gone through its own troubles like we all have, but it can still respond, and that gives us hope. I think we must all focus on the victories as we emerge from the pandemic."