The continued dying of coral reefs in the world is a depressing reminder of the reality of climate change, but it's also something we can actively push back. Conservationists have a new tool with LarvalBot, an underwater robot platform that can significantly accelerate efforts to re-plant old corals with healthy new polyps.
The robot has a history dating back to 2015 when introduced as a prototype called COTSbot, able to autonomously find and destroy the destructive crown of thorns (hence the name). It has since been revised and revised by the Queensland University of Technology team and is known as RangerBot in its hunter-killer form.
But the same systems that make it possible to safely navigate corals and monitor the invasive fauna also make it. It is able to more directly help these vanishing ecosystems.
The corals of the Great Barrier Reef appear every year in a mass event in which the waters of northern Queensland are filled with eggs and semen. Researchers at Southern Cross University have investigated how to harvest this crop and sow a new generation of coral. They collect the eggs and sperm and collect them in floating enclosures where they have about a week to become viable coral babies (not my name, but I like it). These coral babies are then carefully transplanted into endangered reefs.
LarvalBot comes into play in this last step.
"We plan to have two or three robots ready for November spawning. One will carry about 200,000 larvae and the other about 1.2 million, "said Matthew Dunbabin of QUT in a press release. "During operation, robots at constant heights follow preselected paths across the reef, and monitoring by one person will trigger the release of the larvae to maximize the efficiency of propagation."
It's something What a diver would do Normally, the robot must act as a force multiplier – one that needs neither food nor oxygen. Some of them could do the work of dozens of rangers or volunteers.
"The surviving corals will grow and develop and form new colonies that will grow big enough to become sexually reproductive and complete the life cycle after about three years," said Peter Harrison of Southern Cross, who developed the technique of larval restoration ,
This is not a quick fix, but this artificial spread of coral could significantly improve the chances that a reef or area survives the next couple of years and eventually become self-sufficient again.