Since August 2018, the Great Barrier Reef in the Australian Ocean has a special protector – an autonomous underwater drone called RangerBot, which monitors the status of the reef and protects the coral from the predatory thorns. Now Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers in Australia have announced that the RangerBot has a new mission: to be renamed LarvalBot and used to spread coral babies.
Scientists have collected hundreds of millions of coral spawn from the surviving corals of the Great Barrier Reef, which have not previously suffered from coral bleaching. These fish are then raised in special floating enclosures to baby corals. Once they are big enough to survive on their own, the LarvalBot will take them to a specific location on the reef. If necessary, many coral larvae can be distributed simultaneously in a "larval cloud" that can cover an entire damaged area of a reef. This technique is referred to as larval restoration and may be the best hope of the reef for the future.
The next large-scale spawning of coral is planned for late November, and with the help of LarvalBot, the coral larvae should be able to spread up to 100 times faster than it would be possible alone. Two or three robots will together transport 1.4 million larvae distributed per robot per hour on an area of 1,500 square meters per hour. This intervention is necessary because coral reefs have caused great damage due to climate change, resulting in massive deaths on reefs around the world and particularly in Australia. Of particular concern is the phenomenon of coral bleaching, in which rising sea temperatures cause corals to lose their symbiotic algae and thus their color, killing the coral if uncontrolled.
The head of the robotics team at QUT, Professor Matthew Dunbabin of the Institute for Future Environments, is optimistic about the potential of bot technology. "This has the potential to revolutionize coral restoration on reefs worldwide," he said in a statement shared by the university. "Even though this is new, we have tested the different technologies and are confident that they will succeed."