SeaSim spawning a success in 2015

SeaSim spawning a success in 2015

Visiting PhD student and collaborator Groves Dixon (U Texas) records the survival of coral larvae under elevated temperatures. Dr Bay and her group are finding large variation in heat tolerance among larval families which suggests substantial potential for adaptation in this trait under climate change. Image: M. Roman

The National Sea Simulator (SeaSim) hosted researchers from across the globe during the 2015 Great Barrier Reef mass coral spawning events. Over ninety colonies from 15 different species successfully spawned in the SeaSim over the season to produce approximately 5.5 million coral larvae. The larvae provide a ready stock for a range of experimental projects underway at the facility.

“We were very happy with this year’s spawning efforts which saw many researchers returning to SeaSim to continue their experimental work from last year” said Craig Humphrey, SeaSim Operations Manager. “We are witnessing some of the world’s most innovative research involving coral spawning. To see it occurring in aquaria at this scale is quite incredible.”

Coral reproduction and early life history phases are particularly fragile stages of a coral’s life. Understanding these periods is critical to the study of reef-building corals and in particular, its response to cumulative environmental pressures. However, mass spawning occurs only a few nights of the year, and the window of opportunity to collect information on these stages is extremely narrow. The SeaSim aquaria facility maximises early-stage coral research opportunities by using smart technologies to closely mimic the natural conditions experienced on the reef and dedicated spawning and larval rearing systems.

Preparations for the annual coral spawning began months in advance within the SeaSim as the technical team, comprised of engineers, plumbers, electricians and aquarists, created dedicated spawning and larval rearing systems. SeaSim staff and scientists worked together to collect parent colonies just prior to the event during dedicated trips to inshore and offshore reefs near Townsville.

Subsequent spawning experiments involve strong collaborations with researchers and research students from Australia and overseas, including from the University of Texas, University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology, University of Western Australia and James Cook University. This year’s spawning has supported multiple projects including:

  • development of genetic markers of climate changes tolerance for corals
  • investigating enhanced coral stress tolerance via manipulation of prokaryotic symbionts
  • assisted evolution via hybridization and selective breeding
  • examining the effects of sediments on the early life history stages of coral
  • examining the effects of sediments, temperature and nutrients on the early life history stages of coral
  • developing technologies and methods for the rearing, settlement and early development of coral recruits.

Many of these experiments will continue to run over the coming months.

For more information about research projects during coral spawning in the SeaSim, please visit our SeaSim coral spawning page.

This video shows colonies of Acropora nasuta and Acopora loripes spawning in a dedicated spawning system during the December 2015 spawning event.