Word first: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef coral frozen for preservation

The coral will be preserved and reintroduced into the wild.
Loukia Papadopoulos
An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.jpg
An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

mevans/iStock 

Australia's Great Barrier Reef coral has been frozen in what is a world-first trial for storing coral larvae that scientists say could eventually help rewild reefs threatened by climate change, according to a report by Reuters published on Tuesday.

Four bleaching events in just seven years

Coral reefs everywhere are being decimated as rising ocean temperatures destabilize delicate ecosystems. The Great Barrier Reef has undergone four bleaching events in just the last seven years.

One method for protecting the habitats is by cryogenically freezing coral that can be stored and later reintroduced to the wild. However, the current process for this initiative requires sophisticated equipment, including lasers. 

Luckily, scientists have conceived of a new lightweight "cryomesh" that can be manufactured cheaply and is even better at preserving coral than lasers. In December, scientists used the cryomesh to freeze coral larvae at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) in a world-first lab trial. 

"If we can secure the biodiversity of coral … then we'll have tools for the future to really help restore the 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 told Reuters from the AIMS lab. 

Word first: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef coral frozen for preservation
A coral colony on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

The mesh technology will now help store coral larvae at -196C (-320.8°F). This is not the first effort to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Other efforts throughout the years

In 2018, Australia-based Reef Ecologic undertook a massive project in the region involving steel frames that emitted small doses of low-voltage electricity. The electricity was meant to promote limestone growth on the reef structure as a result of interacting with natural minerals found in the seawater.

The reefs were further fitted with electrified steel frames which did the job of both stimulating coral growth and protecting the reef from any future coral bleaching events.

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In 2019, researchers from BMT and the Schools of Civil Engineering and Biological Sciences from the University of Queensland (UQ), supported by underwater specialists from Commercial Marine Group, used 3D structures to protect what was at the time remaining from the reef and boost its growth. 

The 3D artificial coral structures acted as a unique buffer against cyclone wave damage and provided a stable base for new coral recruitment. They were strategically placed to help speed up natural repair processes and provide healthy habitats for fish.

In 2020, researchers from Cambridge University and the University of California, San Diego 3D printed coral-inspired structures that could help coral reefs and energy production. The novel bionic corals were actually capable of growing microscopic algae. 

To achieve this, the researchers used a rapid 3D bio-printing technique. This technique can recreate the detailed structures that mimic the complexity of living tissues and can print structures with micrometer-scale resolution in just minutes. This speed is crucial to the survival of structures that incorporate live cells.