In July 2021 a joint expedition partnership initiative between Coral Expeditions, Australian Geographic and non-profit organisation Great Barrier Reef Legacy began. This expedition brought together a cohort of conservation-minded guests and expert scientific specialists to partake in our inaugural ‘Citizen Science of the Great Barrier Reef’ voyage over 10 nights from Cairns, Australia.
The expedition content was led by some of the world’s leading reef and species scientists and focused on two key conservation projects including an in-depth behavioural study of the rare dwarf minke whales and the surveying and sample collection of coral species to add to the Coral Biobank “Forever Reef Project”, a ground-breaking project to preserve and protect coral diversity for the future.
Dr Dean Miller, Managing Director of Great Barrier Reef Legacy introduced guests onboard to the ‘how and why’ of collecting and preserving coral samples and to the vision of the Forever Reef Project. “On this expedition, we were thrilled to add an additional 50 species of coral to the collection” said Dr Miller, “with every coral bleaching event, we are at risk of losing the most vulnerable corals.” The work during this voyage was essential in helping us secure around 22% of the diversity of hard corals on the Great Barrier Reef and involved a scientifically significant event when Dr Charlie Veron identified a new species on the first day of the expedition.
Coral Expeditions Product Manager, Ms Tamara Sweeting said, “We are proud of the vision and the outcome of our first fully focused Citizen Science expedition. The deeply meaningful science projects were blended seamlessly with the renowned adventure holiday experience our guests are accustomed to. We immersed ourselves in the ecosystem of remote outer reefs and islands of the Great Barrier Reef and then relaxed in good company with sunset drinks on secluded sand cays at days end. That is the essence of our expedition experience.”
From this expedition Coral Expeditions and guests onboard contributed a sum of $30,000 in funding from the expedition to go towards the Great Barrier Reef Legacy and to help establish what is now established as the “Forever Reef Project”.
Now, in 2023, Great Barrier Reef Legacy has opened the doors to the Forever Reef Project, the world’s first living coral biobank facility, housed within the Cairns Aquarium. This facility is dedicated to conserving Great Barrier Reef coral biodiversity, shedding light on the need to preserve and create a backup facility for coral species.
The Forever Reef Project can host up to 12,000 live coral fragments with the goal being to collect, propagate and preserve each of the known hard coral species. This will be achieved through the collection of living coral specimens and creating a repository of live fragments, tissues samples and genetic material to aid in reef research and restoration efforts worldwide.
With 415 species of coral located across the Great Barrier Reef, the Forever Reef Project is aiming to collect all species by 2026, and currently houses 181 species within the Cairns Aquarium facility.
The project has the potential to go global and is already establishing similar biobank facilities in other countries. To provide additional backups of the living fragments, the project is working closely with Traditional Owners, public and private aquariums and the coral collecting industry to create the largest collaborative preservation network of live corals, safeguarding these species forever.
Dr Dean Miller says, “We have had four mass coral bleaching events in the last six years on the Great Barrier Reef, and over 50% of corals gone in the last few decades. The most vulnerable corals and coral reefs are in danger, and we do not have a moment to lose to protect and preserve this precious collection.”
The Forever Reef Project is supported through private, corporate, and philanthropic donations and has set a fundraising target of $500,000 to undertake collection of the remaining 234 target strains before 2026.
The Forever Reef Project is supported through private and philanthropic donations, and with more than 50% of coral species in the Great Barrier Reef yet to be collected, additional donations from individuals and businesses are critical in completing the precious collection.
The Cairns Aquarium “Forever Reef Project” facility is open to the public for a 30 minute behind the scenes tour where visitors can learn about the importance of healthy coral in the ecosystem, climate change, and experience the growing collection of corals firsthand. Coral Expeditions will seek to offer our guests the chance to view and be involved with the facility when in Cairns. We will have ongoing partnership and involvement through our future “Citizen Science of the Great Barrier Reef” voyages.
To find out more about the project, visit www.foreverreef.org. Any guests wishing to be directly involved or to contribute funding support to the ongoing science project can contact the founders directly.
Read the voyage log from our 2021 expedition here https://www.coralexpeditions.com/articles/the-great-barrier-reef/citizen-science-on-the-great-barrier-reef-voyage-log/
View upcoming Great Barrier Reef expeditions at https://www.coralexpeditions.com/au/destinations/great-barrier-reef/