Earlier this week, magic happened in Tropical North Queensland. There wasn’t champagne or the velvet stylings of Barry White. But there was moonlight as the Great Barrier Reef exploded with life. The Reef revitalised as billions if not trillions of coral spawned under the full moon.
This annual event sees corals release tiny balls containing sperm and eggs into the ocean. They break open as they float to the surface, releasing sperm and eggs to bump into each other and fertilise.
An annual event
The extravaganza was witnessed by a lucky few, including Reef Teach marine scientist Gareth Phillips on board the expedition vessel Passions of Paradise. Moored at Point Break on the outer edge of Flynn Reef about 60km east of Cairns, Gareth and an eight-strong crew spent four hours filming the spectacular as part of the Coral Index Project.
Later, he spoke with the media, “It is like an annual stocktake of what species are spawning … It’s the Everest of reproduction in nature”.
“We went around looking for corals engorged with parcels of genetic material ready to go. Once we found a ripe coral, we watched as it took about 30 seconds for each colony to complete its spawning. It was the ultimate treasure hunt”.
He likened the spawning event to Australia emerging from the pandemic, “Nothing makes people happier than new life – and coral spawning is the world’s biggest proof of that. We are coming out of restrictions with a fresh leap of life just as the Reef is spawning. That positivity is what people are feeling. It’s the celebration of the year.”
Meet the expert
A marine biologist with more than 20 years experience, he has monitored coral spawning on the Great Barrier Reef for more than a decade.
I spoke with Gareth in 2018 while on assignment for SilverKris. Then, by day, he was skippering the Passions of Paradise, which offers day trips to the Outer Reef. At night, he lectures, offering information and tips on how best to experience and enjoy the wonders of this diverse ecosystem through his unique educational programme, Reef Teach.
Back then, on board Passions of Paradise at the perfectly turquoise Hastings Reef, he didn’t mince words. He said some Australian and American media outlets had misreported the damage to the Reef. “93% of the reefs surveyed had suffered bleaching, but they weren’t dead. Bleaching is a natural physical response, like a fever to an infection”.
Last night he was upbeat. “Reflecting on the Reef as a sign of hope for Australians, 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. The Reef has gone through its own troubles like we all have, but it can still respond – and that gives us hope”.
How tourists can help the Great Barrier Reef
Travelling to Tropical North Queensland is not only good for the local economy as we emerge from the pandemic, but it’s also good for the Reef. A small levy from each boat and tourism operation within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park goes towards managing the park.
As well, tourists can volunteer to monitor marine life on some Reef cruises. Or you can help clean up a beach with Tangaroa Blue (tangaroablue.org), an organisation involved in removing marine debris.
Divers can become coral crusaders at the Reef Restoration Foundation. Take a trip to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island (only 40 minutes from Cairns). All monies raised go directly to the Centre to care for the turtles.
Become a Citizen of the Great Barrier Reef and make a difference. This global social movement aims to create a worldwide community of Citizens dedicated to taking tangible actions to secure the future of the Great Barrier Reef and the planet. Sign up to become a Citizen of the Great Barrier Reef at citizensgbr.org.
Indeed, a call to refuse plastic straws has been embraced by most Australians. This simple act can save turtles and other marine life.
The last word must go to Gareth …
“People are tired of being told they are killing the world,” he said. “We help them see the reef in a new light and, if they see how important it is, they just might help us look after it. Come see the Great Barrier Reef – there is no other place like it on earth.”