Since August 2018, the Great Barrier Reef in the ocean off Australia has had a special protector — an autonomous underwater drone called RangerBot that has monitored the status of the reef and protected the corals from the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish. But now researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia have announced that the RangerBot has a new mission: it is to be rechristened “LarvalBot” and will be repurposed 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 yet succumbed to coral bleaching. These spawn are then reared into baby corals in special floating enclosures, and once they have grown large enough to survive on their own, they are delivered by the LarvalBot to a designated location in the reef. If necessary, many coral larvae can be distributed at once in a “larval cloud” that can blanket an entire damaged area of a reef. This technique is called larval restoration and may be reef’s best hope for the future.