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Reef RangerBot becomes ‘LarvalBot’ to spread coral babies

QUT’s reef protector robot is set to become ‘mother’ to hundreds of millions of baby corals in a special delivery coinciding with this month’s annual coral spawning on the Great Barrier Reef.

In a world first, QUT’s underwater robot RangerBot has been transformed into LarvalBot by QUT’s robotics team, led by Matthew Dunbabin from the Institute for Future Environments and Chief Investigator at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.

Watch video explainer

Main points:-

  • Scientists collect hundreds of millions of coral spawn from the corals that have survived the two recent mass coral bleaching events.
  • They’re reared into baby corals in mass quantities inside large floating enclosures on the reef.
  • Once developed (in around 5-7 days), the semi-autonomous robot, LarvalBot, will help deliver the tiny baby coral larvae onto targeted reefs.
  • Reared larvae will also be distributed as ‘larval clouds’ on damaged reef areas on a larger scale than previously possible.
  • The technique of delivering reared coral larvae onto reefs is known as ‘larval restoration’.

Professor Dunbabin is working with Southern Cross University’s (SCU) Professor Peter Harrison – pioneer of the coral larval restoration technique (coral IVF) – who is heading the overall research project.

The collaboration between QUT and SCU, funded by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, aims at restoring damaged parts of the Great Barrier Reef and speeding up the recovery of ecosystems affected by coral bleaching.

Large volumes of coral spawn will be captured and transferred into fine mesh pools for almost a week until the larvae is ready to be re-settled.

“We concentrate the larvae and put some of these into LarvalBot to gently squirt the larvae onto dead reef areas allowing it to settle and transform into coral polyps or baby corals,” Professor Harrison (pictured below) said.

Photo: Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum

“The surviving corals will start to grow and bud and form new colonies which will grow large enough after about three years to become sexually reproductive and complete the life cycle.”

The spectacular synchronised spawning of coral reproduction on the Great Barrier Reef is a highlight on scientists’ calendars worldwide and is expected to take place in late November.

The researchers say by giving nature a helping hand through artificial means, it allows up to a 100-times increase over previous methods.

Professor Dunbabin said delivering baby corals and helping grow the Great Barrier Reef builds on the pioneering robotics technology developed to help control the crown-of-thorns starfish.

“I am passionate about protecting the reef in any way I can and extremely excited to have the opportunity to work with world leaders in coral reef restoration,” Professor Dunbabin said.

“We aim to have two or three robots ready for the November spawn. One will carry about 200,000 larvae and the other about 1.2 million.

“During operation, the robots will follow preselected paths at constant altitude across the reef and a person monitoring will trigger the release of the larvae to maximise the efficiency of the dispersal.”

Professor Dunbabin calculated the dispersal would cover 1,500 sq.m/ hour per robot.

Photo: Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum

“This has the potential to revolutionise coral restoration on reefs worldwide,” said Professor Peter Harrison.

The project has come to life after the researchers won $300,000 from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s Out of the Blue Box Reef Innovation Challenge supported by the Tiffany & Co. Foundation.

The Foundation’s Managing Director Anna Marsden said the recent IPCC report reinforced the closing window of opportunity for the world to act on climate change and the sharp threat facing coral reefs globally.

Professor Dunbabin said it was hoped reef rangers and other managers would use the technology in the future.

“Whilst this is new, we have trialled the different technologies and are confident of its success,” he said.

Image above of Professor Peter Harrison: Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum
NOTE: Imagery and raw video can be downloaded via Dropbox

Media contacts:

QUT Media: Debra Nowland (07) 3138 1150 (Mon, Wed. Thurs) media@qut.edu.au
After hours: Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901

Great Barrier Reef Foundation: Louise Sturgess 0409 352 493 | lsturgess@barrierreef.org

Southern Cross University: Jessica Nelson 0417288794 or jessica.nelson@scu.edu

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About The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is an ARC Centre of Excellence, funded for $25.6 million over seven years to form the largest collaborative group of its kind generating internationally impactful science and new technologies that will transform important Australian industries and provide solutions to some of the hard challenges facing Australia and the globe. Formed in 2014, the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is the world’s first research centre specialising in robotic vision. They are a group of researchers on a mission to develop new robotic vision technologies to expand the capabilities of robots. Their work will give robots the ability to see and understand for the sustainable well-being of people and the environments we live in. The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision has assembled an interdisciplinary research team from four leading Australian research universities: QUT, The University of Adelaide (UoA), The Australian National University (ANU), and Monash University as well as CSIRO’s Data61 and overseas universities and research organisations including INRIA Rennes Bretagne, Georgia Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, University of Toronto, and the University of Oxford.

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  • Feature image of Heart Reef on the Great Barrier Reef courtesy Tourism and Events Queensland
Posted November 02, 2018

Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
2 George Street Brisbane, 4001
+61 7 3138 7549