Great Barrier Reef

The biobank houses 800 species of coral so that we can restore reefs in the future

By Donna Lu

The Great Barrier Reef

imageBROKER / Alamy

An Australian conservation team is putting together a comprehensive living biobank of coral species in case we need to rebuild the world's reefs in the future.

Living Coral Biobank plans to collect and house more than 800 species of the world's hard corals in a dedicated facility in Port Douglas, Northern Australia.

The biobank is biodiversity insurance, says Dean Miller, director of the Living Coral Biobank project.

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"We keep this living coral population alive when we need to use it for restoration and rehabilitation," says Miller, adding that coral reef transplanting is a "worst case scenario".

The Great Barrier Reef has seen three mass bleaching incidents in the past five years, which were particularly disastrous in the northern part of the reef. The reef has lost more than half of its coral colonies since 1995.

From November 6th, the team will begin collecting living fragments, tissue and DNA samples from corals from the Great Barrier Reef. On its first expedition, the team will identify and collect specimens from 20 species of coral – 5 percent of the 400 species of the Great Barrier Reef.

A specially built facility to accommodate the coral samples should be completed by 2025. In the meantime, they are being kept in storage tanks in Cairns.

As a backup, corals are stored in various public and private aquariums around the world. The samples from the first expedition will also be housed in one public and 10 private aquariums in Australia. The team has not yet announced a detailed schedule for subsequent expeditions.

Corals can live for thousands of years under favorable conditions, Miller says.

Corals can produce both sexually and asexually. When reproduced asexually, they bud and produce clones of themselves. “We expect the corals to double every six months, so the biobank collection will double every six months,” Miller says.

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