The Great Barrier Reef, Coral Restoration Scalability and Nurtured.Co
Nurtured.Co was started with one goal in mind; to build sustainable, long-lasting, resilient and fast-growing reefs all around the world. As we are based in Queensland, our first ambitious goal is to begin to ‘patch-up’ the Great Barrier Reef with hundreds of artificial reefs. This is essential as Australia is on track to lose the entire GBR and its rich biodiversity. According to Deloitte, the GBR has an economic value of $56 Billion dollars, sustains 64,000 jobs and contributes $6.4 billion to the Australian economy . If this asset is lost there will be extreme detrimental impacts to not only the environment, but the economy as well. More needs to be done to reverse the trend. There are a variety of small-scale projects aiming to help, however none have the resources, technology, or scalability to save the reef on a large enough level.
One popular but sometimes detrimental coral restoration method is coral transplanting or creating coral nurseries. This method has been used by countless organisations around the world as it is one of the quickest and most effective methods to demonstrate increased coral growth and survivability in a small-scale operation. Transplanting corals involves fragmenting living coral colonies and taking these fragments to an environment where they can thrive, grow, and reproduce. A significant problem with this method is that all corals transplanted are artificially selected, diminishing natural processes. Without diversity amongst a coral colony, corals cannot successfully reproduce and are forced into a cycle of asexual reproduction. Asexual reproduction is problematic as specific types of corals can be extremely susceptible to environmental stress. This can often lead to a case where after a harsh environmental event all corals in a nursery are bleached and the entire restoration effort is lost. Initially, these projects may show signs of excellent growth but unfortunately in the long term many are unsuccessful.
Coral transplanting also has a significant economic downside and cannot be realistically employed to save the GBR. Each coral nursery or transplantation endeavour requires significant physical effort from many individuals and substantial maintenance throughout the span of the projects. Coral nursery’s often require monthly observation and interaction as even slight environmental stress can lead to the bleaching of an entire nursery. The costs of this exercise can be thousands of dollars per day . While these efforts are honourable and beneficial in small-scale situations, realistically this process cannot be replicated on a large scale as the amount of people and maintenance behind successful nurseries is far too great.
A more biologically effective method of restoring coral reefs than coral nurseries is coral larval culturing. This method consists of gathering coral sperm and gametes during a coral reproducing event, mixing these genetic samples in a controlled environment and breeding stronger, more resilient corals. Lab culturing is remarkable from a genetic and diversity standpoint as the gathered larvae from the environment are protected from predation and allowed to mix and bond together in a controlled environment. When these larvae mature, they are then strategically placed back into the coral reef ecosystems to enhance and rebirth the reef. While this method is the ‘gold standard’ of coral reef restoration, unfortunately the costs involved to complete this process on a grand scale is far too high. Furthermore, most coral reefs only experience a reproducing event once a year and this method is entirely reliant on this spectacle.
What we do differently
Nurtured.Co artificial reef technology is designed to be a vital foundation for coral growth and help replenish the coral reef ecosystems. These artificial reefs are designed to increase natural coral larvae settlement and enhance natural coral diversity in the local ecosystems. Our structures allow for enhanced foundation conditions for coral larvae settlement and offer less spatial competition than the surrounding natural reef. Previous studies have shown that once corals attached to these structures can grow up to 2-10x faster than natural coral reefs. With increased biodiversity and thriving coral growth, Nurtured.Co structures act as a ‘seedbank’ for surrounding coral colonies and slowly replenish the local ecosystem. Through the advanced processes and concrete-like foundations, Nurtured.Co artificial reefs are designed to withstand extreme environmental events and help maintain the health of the corals in these tough situations.
Nurtured.Co artificial reefs have been specifically designed to be a scalable solution for coral restoration that can be replicated anywhere throughout the Great Barrier Reef. Our artificial reefs are designed to survive for lifetimes with very minimal required maintenance. Initially, each reef is observed every 3-6months for several years to ensure processes are operating correctly but once the structure is established within the ecosystem it can be left to maintain itself for years on end. Nurtured.Co artificial reefs currently use a sacrificial anode as a source of power and this anode must be replaced approximately every 3-5 years. In the future we aim to employ even longer-lasting power sources to allow for less maintenance and more reef creation. Additionally, the materials used as the structure of each reef are extremely low-cost and can be upcycled from construction sites. This low-cost foundation will allow us as a company the chance to be able to replenish the entire Great Barrier Reef with the right funding.
Why we need to act now
Corals are renowned for notoriously slow growth and while Nurtured.Co structures can speed up this process substantially, there is a lot of ground to cover and we need to start now. With the full return of the GBR, many marine organisms will begin to thrive again. This will lead to increased fish populations, more biodiversity in the ecosystem and a reduction in global CO2. The benefits from these initial factors are immense. Approximately 25% of all marine life relies on coral reefs, this includes 4,000 species of fish. Additionally, 500 thousand people depend on the reef for food, income, and coastal protection. Reefs are habitats, feeding, spawning, and nursery grounds for over 1 million organisms. We should be aiming to not only recover the extreme losses of coral reef so far but to rebuild these crucial assets stronger than ever. With your support this could become a reality.
 J. O'Mahony, et. al. "The economic, social and icon value of the Great Barrier Reef," Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Brisbane, 2017.
 A. Abelson, "Artifical Reefs vs Coral Transplantation as Restoration Tool for Mitigating Coral Reef Deterioration: Benefits, Concerns, and Proposed Guidelines," Bulletin of Marine Science, vol. 78, pp. 151-56, 2006.