The Great Barrier Reef has a new robotic ally.
In September, the RangerBot, developed by researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT),, hunting down a deadly starfish that wreaks havoc on coral, in addition to mapping and monitoring the Reef’s health. Now, that deadly drone has been engineered to not just take life, but deliver it, too.
Enter the LarvalBot, the Barrier Reef’s robotic coral midwife:
The initiative builds on Southern Cross University professor Peter Harrison’s larval reseeding technique, piloted on the southern Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017.
“This year represents a big step up for our larval restoration research,” Harrison said in a statement.
“[It is] the first time we’ve been able to capture coral spawn on a bigger scale using large floating spawn catchers, then rearing them into tiny coral larvae in our specially constructed larval pools and settling them on damaged reef areas,” he explained.
Birthing partner Matthew Dunbabin, a professor at Queensland University of Technology, re-engineered QUT’s reef protector RangerBot into LarvalBot—specifically for Harrison’s project.
With a capacity to carry around 100,000 coral larvae per mission (and plans to scale up to millions), the robot gently releases the tots onto damaged reef areas, allowing them to settle and, eventually, develop into coral polyps.
“During this year’s trial, the robot was tethered so it could be monitored precisely,” Dunbabin said. “But future missions will see it operate alone and on a much larger scale.”
It’s like spreading fertilizer on your lawn,” he added.
Following this year’s initial trial, the pair plan to fully implement their proposal in 2019, using their specialized robot elsewhere in Australia, and around the world.
“With further research and refinement, this technique has enormous potential to operate across large areas of reef and multiple sites in a way that hasn’t previously been possible,” Harrison said. “We’ll be closely monitoring the progress of settled baby corals over coming months and working to refine both the technology and the technique to scale up further in 2019.”