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17 clever ways scientists are trying to protect coral

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Manipulating clouds to protect corals from bleaching

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Great Barrier Reef

Scientists are currently exploring the possibility of making the clouds above the Great Barrier Reef larger and brighter in the hope that this will save it from further coral bleaching.

Researchers at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and the University of Sydney's School of Geosciences believe that by manipulating low lying clouds over the reef to be more reflective, it will have a chance to cool the affected waters a few degrees, a critical option during any potential future El Niño climate warming occurrences.

Though this strand of research is still in early days, a number of groups are studying cloud brightening as a potential option for altering the climate as a whole. Originally presented by British scientist John Latham almost 30 years ago, the idea is that fleets of boats could spray minuscule particles of salt that have been generated from sea water into the lower lying clouds, inducing them to expand and become denser. These thicker white clouds should then be able to reflect more of the incoming heat back out into space and away from the Earth's surface. Lathem led a study in 2012 at the University of Manchester, which found that this approach could offset the resulting heat from a double the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Experts the world over are working hard to find a solution to the grim situation in the Great Barrier Reef, which is still continuing to die off since last year's extreme bout of coral bleaching. It is thought that up to half of the reef may have died, with the number of live corals falling 30% since last year.

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Coral nurseries at hotels and resorts

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More and more hotels are getting involved with ocean conservation and some of the best luxury nature and eco resorts are home to coral nurseries.

Among them is the Jean-Míchel Cousteau Resort in Fiji. Resident marine biologist Johnny Singh (pictured) started creating the on-site coral farm in May 2013 using fragments of coral colonies naturally broken off due to storms and extreme weather. Those that are swept away and land on the sandy ocean floor rarely survive, so Singh works hard to recover pieces that have been knocked off — specifically targeting corals of the Acropora genus as these grow more quickly than others.

Coco Bodu Hithi in the Maldives also has a coral nursery project, first implemented by resident marine biologist Chiara Fumagalli in 2012. Using scrap metal, her team assemble star-like structures that are lowered to the seabed. They attach broken corals found during snorkelling trips to the frames using cable ties, which are removed as soon as the corals have properly flourished into seemingly natural coral formations — of which there are now 18.

Pictures courtesy of the Jean-Míchel Cousteau Resort

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Using 3D printing to create new coral reefs

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Following in the footsteps of his ancestors, ocean conservationist Fabien Cousteau has been working with 3D printing to create, expand and restore coral reefs in a partnership with the Caribbean island resort of Harbour Village Bonaire.

Speaking to Boat International, Cousteau explained his choice of location: “The advantage Bonaire has is that it has a semblance of a healthy reef because of the protective measures that the government of Bonaire has installed decades ago.”

Made from calcium carbonate, these artificial reefs will closely mimic the shape, texture and chemical makeup of natural coral, with the aim of attracting free-floating polyps to take root and grow into new reefs.

“I think that we need to see this as one of many tools in the quiver in combating things like coral bleaching and acidification issues that are degrading our coral reefs in greater and at faster levels,” he added. “In our projects I hope that we’re able to print a billion coral structures in the long term.”

Similar trials have already begun in Monaco and the Persian Gulf and whilst it is too early to draw any definitive conclusions, the short-term data is encouraging.

Earlier this year, Fabien launched the Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center, which will focus on raising awareness, creating educational material and running restoration programs for sea turtles and coral reefs.

Fabien is the grandson of underwater documentarian Jacques Cousteau, one of the most famous sea explorers who changed the world.

Pictures courtesy of Instagram.com / Fabien Cousteau OLC (left), Facebook.com / Fabien Cousteau OLC (top right) / Fabien Cousteau (bottom right)

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