Scientists freeze Great Barrier Reef corals in world’s first attempt

Scientists working on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have successfully tested a new method of freezing and storing coral larvae that they say could ultimately help revitalize reefs threatened by climate change.

Scientists scramble to protect coral reefs as rising sea temperatures destabilize vulnerable ecosystems. The Great Barrier Reef has suffered four bleaching events in the past seven years, including the first bleaching event during a La Nina phenomenon that typically brings with it cooler temperatures.

Cryogenically frozen corals can be stored and later reintroduced into the wild, but the current process requires sophisticated equipment, including lasers. Scientists say a new lightweight ‘cryomesh’ can be made cheaply and better preserves coral.

In a laboratory experiment in December, the world’s first with Great Barrier Reef corals, scientists used the cryomesh to freeze coral larvae at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS). The coral had been collected from the reef for the trial, which coincided with the brief annual spawning window.

“If we can protect coral biodiversity…then we have tools for the future to really help restore reefs, and this technology for coral reefs in the future is a real game changer,” Mary Hagedorn, Senior Research Scientist at Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute to Reuters from the AIMS laboratory.

The Kryomesh has previously been tested on smaller and larger species of Hawaiian coral. An attempt with the larger variety failed.

Trials of larger Great Barrier Reef coral species continue.

The trials involved scientists from AIMS, the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and the Taronga Conservation Society Australia as part of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program.

The mesh technology, which will help store coral larvae at -196°C, was developed by a team from the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering, including Dr. Zongqi Guo, a postdoctoral researcher, and Professor John C. Bishop. It was first tested on corals by PhD student Nikolas Zuchowicz.

“This new technology that we have will allow us to do that on a scale that can actually help support some of the aquaculture and restoration efforts,” said Jonathan Daly of Taronga Conservation Society Australia. Scientists freeze Great Barrier Reef corals in world’s first attempt

Fry Electronics Team

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