The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and is also listed as World Heritage. It contains an abundance of marine life and comprises of over 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays. However processes such as ocean acidification and warming waters are adversely impacting the vitality of reef building organisms, and large sections of the reef are dying as a consequence.
As part of a project to preserve and perhaps one day regenerate the Great Barrier Reef, 70 billion coral sperm and 22 billion embryos have been frozen and transported to Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.
Lead by scientist Rebecca Spindler, the project involved cutting away sections of the reef and replacing the coral samples in tanks during the spawning period, in order to maximise the amount of reproductive cells collected. The cells, known as gametes, were then frozen or cryopreserved in a chamber of liquid nitrogen at minus 196 degrees celcius, and are expected to remain living for hundreds of years.
Spindler hopes that by freezing the cells, the genetic diversity of the reef as we know it today can be saved for possible restoration endeavours in the future.
This technology has been previously applied to reefs in the Caribbean and Hawaii, however this is the first attempt in Australia.