a closeup of the tipcs of many coral polyps, some with pink round balls floating up from them

Reef spawning research at AIMS

Research on the narrow window of opportunity for recovery on the Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef annual mass spawning is an important time of year when corals and other reef animals reproduce. It is one of the most extraordinary natural phenomenon on the planet.

Corals, guided by seasonal warming, moon phases and tides, release egg and sperm into the water around the same time to create new corals. The event usually takes place on a handful of nights following the full moons in October and November, but sometimes in December. It occurs mostly under the cover of night.

Coral spawning provides a narrow window of opportunity for recovery on the Reef. This is also a narrow window for the scientists working to understand how reefs can resist and recover from disturbances, and how we can help.

Coral spawning creates a hive of activity in AIMS' National Sea Simulator (SeaSim), where our scientists and their collaborators study this crucial period in the life of a coral. Prior to spawning, corals are brought from the Reef to the SeaSim, where they spawn at the same time as those out on the Reef.

Currently, AIMS scientists and collaborators focus their coral research on reef recovery, adaptation and restoration for a warming future.

Other animals which reproduce around the same time of year are also studied in Seasim, including crowns-of-thorns starfish.


Reef spawning research in 2022

Below are just some of the spawning projects underway at AIMS in 2022. Many take place in the National Sea Simulator, and continue into the summer and beyond as the young corals mature in the early months of their life.

Coral spawning on Woppaburra sea Country in 2022

AIMS research on coral fertilisation and rearing of young corals on the Great Barrier Reef usually takes place in the AIMS National Sea Simulator.  

In November 2022, we’ve done something different.

View across the Keppel Islands on Woppaburra sea Country. Image: Styledia

The Woppaburra Coral Project team worked and lived on a floating lab – a car barge converted into a dedicated science platform. While at sea, they undertook several projects and testing different methods for seeding, including ones which can only be achieved at sea.

Scientists and Traditional Custodians joined ACRRI partner BHP, international and national science collaborators for the single largest science and engagement field event in AIMS’ 50 year history for the event.

2022 coral spawning on sea Country


Reef science in a warming world 

AIMS is involved in major projects focused on helping coral reefs survive climate change.

Scientists collect egg bundles during the annual coral spawning event. Image: Chris Brunner

Our scientists are: 

  • continuing our research to understand the natural capacity of corals and reefs to adapt to warming oceans,  
  • investigating a number of ways we can enhance corals’ ability to resist bleaching, and   
  • developing methods to scale up and fast track coral recovery.

Learn more about Australian Government-funded Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program, and the Australian Coral Reef Resilience Initiative. 

Meet the team

AIMS' research in coral spawning and the early life history of corals and other tropical invertebrates has been underway for over two decades. Our world-class team have contributed significantly to the fundamental understanding of coral reproduction and adaptation, and their efforts are now geared to research on how we can help coral reefs into a warming future.

The spawning team meet in the national Sea Simulator at twilight to prepare for a busy night of coral spawning ahead. Image: Dorian Tsai

Below are some of AIMS' lead scientists involved in spawning research.