Coral reefs are suffering from climate change, pollution, and rising ocean temperatures, which strip the colorful reefs of their dynamic hues.
Coral bleaching occurs when conditions are no longer suitable for an algae called zooxanthellae, according to a Particle report. Under healthier times, the algae provides the coral food, and the coral provides the algae with a place to live. However, when conditions worsen, the algae release stress-induced chemicals that are harmful to the reef, which leads to their eviction.
This is where robots can swoop in and help restore the underwater vibrancy.
The Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s 2018 Out of the Blue Box Reef Innovation Challenge was a global search for new methods to support reef recovery. Southern Cross University’s Professor Peter Harrison and Queensland University of Technology’s Professor Matthew Dunbabin emerged as the challenge’s winners, chosen from a pool of five finalists.
What’s their winning proposal? During the Great Barrier Reef’s mass spawning event in November, all the coral reproduce at the same time. During that time, the scientists won’t sit idly by. They’ll be gathering “hundreds of millions of coral spawn” and care for them “inside large floating enclosures” into large amounts of baby coral, according to the project’s description.
Then the LarvalBots robots come into play, transiting the baby coral larvae to the damaged areas of the reef. According to the team, coral baby numbers could increase by 100 times, and will offer a targeted recovery campaign to the reef areas that are in critical need.
The winning idea has been awarded approximately $225,000 to fund its ambitious, yet important, goal.