Waypoint Spring 2015

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$2 million grant to AIMS researcher to fast-track evolution of coral resilience

$2 million grant to AIMS researcher to fast-track evolution of coral resilience


Credit: AIMS

‘Bootcamp for corals’ is the latest innovative solution being explored to build the resilience of our reefs against rising ocean temperatures and more acidic oceans.

An AIMS and University of Hawaii researcher duo have won a prestigious award and been jointly granted a nearly $4-million, five-year project. The project aims to develop a biological toolbox for creating a stockpile of corals with improved environmental stress resilience, which can then be used to stabilise and restore reefs.

Putting corals through human-assisted evolution is a “unique” way to address and reverse our reef’s rapid decline in coral ecosystems, says senior director of philanthropy, Dune Ives, from the awarding company, Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc.

Madeleine van Oppen from AIMS and Ruth Gates from the University of Hawaii are excited to accelerate natural evolutionary processes to increase coral resistance to increasing ocean stresses.

“It’s an innovative use of techniques commonly used in the agriculture industry, including selective breeding and manipulating microbial communities,” says van Oppen.

One approach is using corals that were unaffected by the 2014 bleaching event in Kane’ohe Bay. These corals will be ‘trained’ in water that’s increasingly warmer and more acidic. This ‘treadmill’ of harsher and harsher conditions will hopefully give them even more resilience.

Using Australia’s state-of-the art National Sea Simulator (SeaSim) at AIMS’ headquarters in Cape Ferguson (Queensland) will help the duo to carefully control the water to ‘train’ and selectively breed corals to better withstand the kind of ocean conditions predicted for the future.

Because coral reefs are declining across the globe, including those of the iconic Great Barrier Reef, van Oppen says it’s a “very exciting prospect” to be part of efforts to restore coral reefs. “Our project builds on decades of research on acclimatization and adaptation of corals and has the potential to improve coral reef restoration efforts.”

The team won the 2013 Paul G. Allen Ocean Challenge, its $10,000 grand prize and an invite to propose their project.