The Coral Nurture Program was conceived in 2018. It’s a new approach for the Great Barrier Reef that was initiated by a world-first partnership between tourism and science, with the goal to transform both ecological and social resilience to environmental change. Our unique approach is not about “Reef Restoration” per se, but long-term stewardship and adaptation at economically valuable Great Barrier Reef locations; increasing available management tools beyond existing options to include planting corals. This doesn’t just involve out-planting corals in order to boost live coral cover at reefs that have experienced a fall in cover, but also helps to ensure reef sites with existing high coral cover that are economically valuable stay healthy.
The Coral Nurture Program does not claim to “Save the Reef”. The sheer size and complexity of the reef, as well as the cost of interventions, means that saving the reef is only possible with effective global action on climate change, in addition to continuing the existing management of fishing, runoff and Crown of Thorns starfish. However, continued increases in surface seawater temperatures that drive marine heat waves which cause coral bleaching events are likely to keep occurring, even if climate policy is improved quickly. In the meantime, we are trying to develop the know-how to buy time at a scale that helps coral at the most valuable (ecological and economic) locations. Other people are investigating the feasibility of attempting reef-scale intervention and we anticipate that knowledge from our Program can contribute to future decisions. Indeed, a focus on site specific management, as demonstrated in our Program, is key to success at any scale.
The Coral Nurture Program capitalises on the fact that tourism accounts for 89% of the economic revenue and provides 91% of the jobs created by the Great Barrier Reef. By utilising tourism vessel infrastructure, plus the knowledge, experience and skills of tourism industry personnel, interventions at tourism sites to either help recovery from an impact, or help adaptation to climate change, can be targeted to the exact need at each site, and be undertaken far more cheaply and efficiently than alternative options. In addition, tour operators are uniquely placed to share knowledge with the 1000’s of visitors visiting the Great Barrier Reef each day, enhancing the capacity for increasing public awareness in the activities occurring to aid the Great Barrier Reef.