Millions of tiny corals on the Great Barrier Reef have a new mommy—an underwater robot christened the “LarvalBot.”
The black-and-yellow submersibles, which are roughly the length of a skateboard, are part of an ambitious project to conserve the Great Barrier Reef by seeding it with coral larvae, which can grow and help to regenerate damaged areas. The iconic ecosystem has suffered numerous coral bleaching events over the last two decades, overwhelmingly attributed to climate change.
“We aim to have two or three robots ready for the November spawn. One will carry about 200,000 larvae and the other about 1.2 million,” Matthew Dunbabin, a professor of science and engineering at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology, said in a statement on Thursday.
Coral bleaching can occur when too-warm water temperatures cause them to expel their zooxanthellae—tiny photosynthetic algae that symbiotically inhabit coral tissue, and supply it with up to 90 percent of its energy. Without these organisms, coral appear white and skeletonized. Their absence also makes coral vulnerable to mortality. A 2016 ocean heatwave around the Great Barrier Reef was associated with mass die-offs of 30 percent of its coral population.
But sometimes corals can bounce back, and that’s where LarvalBot can help.
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