Massive Coral Spawning is a Sign of Hope for the Great Barrier Reef

Billions of coral “babies” were born in Australia last year, after 25 years of mass bleaching events and death

After two decades of bad news, we finally have some good news from the Great Barrier Reef – the coral are spawning by the billions!

Nearly 98% of the Great Barrier Reef has suffered from 5 mass coral bleaching events since 1998.

Coral bleaching happens when corals are under stress due to environmental disturbances like rising temperatures, UV radiation, or poor water quality (toxins). Under stress, they release the algae that feed them and become white. If they are not given a chance to recover they can starve and die.

The most recent bleaching event, in early 2020, killed around 30% of the coral and reduced coral larvae by 70 percent.

But the last year and a half of lockdowns, decreased industry, and tourism in Australia seem to have benefited coral, along with many other non-human species.

Earlier this month, scientists from Reef Teach documented the most impressive coral spawning event they’ve seen in decades off the coast of Queensland.

Reef Teach marine scientist Gareth Phillips has been watching coral spawn for 10 years. This year was the biggest and most spectacular spawning event he’s ever seen.

“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 told EcoWatch.

Coral reproduce asexually year ’round, but, once a year, they shoot sperm and eggs up into the water, which bump into each other and create coral babies.

Phillips noted the timing of the massive spawn comes after 18 months of border closures in Australia.

“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.”