Feel Great Features

How does your garden grow?

It doesn’t get much greater than the Great Barrier Reef, especially when you plant your own coral garden and see it grow and thrive.

There’s nothing quite like seeing the literal growth of your conservation efforts before your eyes and this couldn’t be more true for marine biologist Lorna Howlett.

Lorna, who is currently a PhD student with the Climate Change Cluster (C3) at University of Technology Sydney, is one of the project coordinators for the Coral Nurture Program, which is a unique partnership between tourism and science. The Coral Nurture Program aims to equip reef holders with the tools to assist in the recovery of “high value” reef sites on the Great Barrier Reef.

The size of the coral fragment when it was planted in 2019

The coral fragment in July 2021

At the start of her PhD in July 2019, Lorna planted Acropora millepora coral fragments at Wavelength Reef Cruises’s site on Opal Reef off Port Douglas. She attached the fragments, which were just 10cm in length using a Coralclip, which is a spring loaded metal clip with a masonry nail, which is hammered into bare rock face on the reef.

Lorna returned to the reef site in July 2021 to find that the corals had grown into beautiful and full coral gardens.

Since planting the corals at the start of her PHD, tourism operators have outplanted over 40,000 corals through the Coral Nurture Program. As well as resulting in an abundance of beautiful underwater gardens, the program’s conservation efforts have also secured them a place as a finalist for the 2021 Australian Museum Eureka Prize.

Lorna attaching coral to the bare rockface using the Coralclip

Coral propagation is at the centrepoint of Lorna’s PhD, which is titled “Optimisation and ecological effects of coral restoration on the Great Barrier Reef”. She has been assessing the success of the Coralclip devise on reef sites throughout Cairns and Port Douglas to determine whether they help popular tourism sites to recover faster than they would naturally.

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