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Reef health

Bursting into a kaleidoscope of colour in the world’s biggest display of new life, there is no more important event for the future of the Great Barrier Reef (the Reef) than the spectacular coral spawning. 

During this synchronised mass reproduction millions of bundles of coral sperm and eggs are released into the ocean to breed the next generation of corals – a positive sign for Reef renewal and regeneration.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Assistant Director of Reef Health and Innovation, Dr Jessica Stella, said the magical event only happens once a year after a full moon, and only when water temperatures can stimulate the maturation of reproductive cells within the adult corals.

“It’s the greatest reproductive show on earth.  It’s the regeneration of the Reef, and really indicates its resilience,” Dr Stella said.

“Given corals are attached to the seabed and can’t move around to meet a mate, spawning is the most effective way to breed new generations of a whole range of corals.”

The multi-species event was discovered by researchers from James Cook University off Magnetic Island along the north Queensland coastline in 1981.  Until then little was known about coral reproduction.
Reef Authority Chief Scientist, Dr David Wachenfeld, said the annual spawning is more than an amazing sight to witness, it’s also a critical time for Reef renewal.

“The climate is changing, the entire planet is getting hotter, and the Reef is no exception,” Dr Wachenfeld said.

“We had severe marine heatwaves in 2016 and 2017, which led to a lot of shallow coral dying on the Reef.

“Since then, the Reef has been recovering strongly, despite a marine heatwave in 2020 and again earlier this year, and coral spawning is an incredibly important part of the natural recovery process.” 

Research and development play an important role in developing ways the coral spawning process can become more efficient and accelerate recovery. 

The Australian Government-funded Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program are looking at how to help the recovery process by gathering coral spawn, increasing its survival, and reapplying it back onto the reef and get an even faster recovery rate.

“One of the things I love most about this research is that one of the leaders is Professor Peter Harrison from Southern Cross University, who was part of the team which first recorded coral spawning in 1981,” Dr Wachenfeld said.

“Forty years later and he’s back leading endeavors to help nature and its recovery processes.”


Supporting imagery: Use for this media release only. Copyright: Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority) Photographer: Gabriel Guzman 

Contact: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Media Hotline: (07) 4750 0846 | 


Updated 11 Nov 2022
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