Restoring damaged parts of the Great Barrier Reef by using floating coral nurseries

Professor Carlo Leifert is the Director of the Centre for Organics Research. Professor Leifert has co-authored new research which shows that milk from cows grazing outdoors has more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than milk from cows raised indoors on grain. The paper published in Food Science and Nutrition journal is ‘Enhancing the fatty acid profile of milk through forage-based rations, with nutrition modeling of diet outcomes’.

Coral researchers are working night and day on the Great Barrier Reef to complete a radically new approach to mass coral re-seeding, rearing millions of hardy coral babies following the reef’s famous mass coral spawning event.


The ‘Coral IVF’ team led by Southern Cross University’s Professor Peter Harrison, with researchers Katie Chartrand (James Cook University) and Associate Professor David Suggett (University of Technology Sydney), captured millions of coral sperm and eggs during the ‘synchronised sex’ event and have successfully reared and ‘turbo charged’ the coral larvae with algae symbionts, ready to replenish heavily-degraded sections of reef.

Professor Harrison said the Larval Restoration Team had worked tirelessly at Reef Magic’s Marine World pontoon off Cairns since the mass spawning ‘underwater snowstorm’ began the night of November 17, following the November full moon. He says the team’s nocturnal project is paying off, now with millions of healthy coral larvae swimming around in six floating rearer pools ready to be dispersed and grow into new coral communities.

For the first time the team is trialling the newly designed ‘coral-nursery’ rearer pools, turbo-charging the baby coral’s chance of survival through co-culturing with algae, and tracking their progress using new ultra-sensitive optical sensors in real-time.

“We are using my newly-designed spawn catchers and nursery pool nets which have enabled us to catch more of the coral spawn slick and rear millions more larvae than ever before – and the results are looking very promising,” said Professor Harrison, who first discovered the mass coral spawning phenomenon with colleagues on the Great Barrier Reef 38 years ago.

This time, one of the ground-breaking advances from the team including Southern Cross Uni PhD researcher Nadine Boulotte is co-culturing the coral larvae with their algal partners (microscopic zooxanthellae) to turbo-charge their chance of survival, before being transplanted back onto the Great Barrier Reef.

“This innovative technique is like giving the baby corals a ‘battery pack’ by allowing the coral larvae to take up symbiotic algae, giving them the potential to acquire more energy, and therefore grow faster and survive better. If we succeed in increasing their survival rate it can make a big difference in being able to scale up future restoration processes,” Professor Harrison said.

Researcher Nadine Boulotte said “I’m excited to see the results from my laboratory experiments being trialled on the reef for the first time.”

JCU Senior Researcher Officer Katie Chartrand has been carefully growing the algal cultures in the lead up to the project and says the coral larvae are able to acquire symbiotic microalgae much earlier than they would in the wild.

“We have grown more than 10 billion cells of a more thermally-tolerant species of algae for our developing larvae to take up rather than the baby coral securing this symbiont well after settling. The next step will be to monitor how these energy-boosted larvae survive and grow in order to test if this technique improves coral recovery out on the reef,” Ms Chartrand said.

“Another critical component for our project to succeed is the partnerships with reef tour operators Aroona Boat Charters and Reef Magic, who have been providing key support for the research on Moore Reef.”

UTS Associate Professor David Suggett performed the initial algal culture process, and in another exciting first for the project team, was able to track the uptake of these algae symbionts by the coral larvae in near real time using new optical sensors.

“This is a world first – our new sensors are so sensitive they are able track uptake and photosynthetic activity as the algae initiate symbiosis with the larvae. These algae give the larvae a metabolic boost that normally they would not receive until metamorphosing on the reef into baby corals,” Associate Professor Suggett said.

Andy Ridley, CEO of conservation organisation Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, said partnering with experienced Cairns tourism operators including Aroona Boat Charters and Reef Magic, was not only crucial to the project’s success, but a drawcard for reef tourists who see the project first-hand.

This project is a collaboration between the University researchers and key industry partners including Aroona Boat Charters and Reef Magic, and is funded by the Queensland and Australian Governments Coral Abundance Challenge.

The ‘conception’ of Coral IVF

It was when Professor Peter Harrison and colleagues first discovered mass coral spawning on the Great Barrier Reef 38 years ago that he first conceived the idea of using ‘Coral IVF’ to re-establish healthy breeding coral communities on damaged reefs devastated by coral bleaching.

The award-winning discovery of mass coral spawning radically changed scientific views about how corals on the Great Barrier Reef and around the world reproduce. The settling of coral larvae onto the reef is essential for restoring the next generation of coral communities.

Professor Harrison has been successfully trialling his unique restoration process at ever-increasing scales in the Philippines and on the Great Barrier Reef for the past seven years. He and his team capture spawn from corals that have survived bleaching devastation and keep them in ‘nursery enclosures’ so they don’t float away before they are capable of settling on the reef. The team then continues to monitor the reefs during subsequent months to track how well the coral babies survive and grow into new colonies that can become sexually mature and begin reproducing within three years.

While Professor Harrison’s Coral IVF process is a blueprint that could be scaled globally to help restore damaged and dying reefs, the team cautions that restoration alone cannot save these beautiful complex ecosystems that require urgent action on climate change to ensure their survival.

Learn and see more: Millions of coral babies ‘turbo-charged’ in floating nurseries to restore damaged parts of the Great Barrier Reef



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Brillouin integrated photonics could enable a third-wave revolution in integrated circuits

Conceptual illustration of an integrated processer using stimulated Brillouin scattering components.

Optical fibres are our global nervous system, transporting terabytes of data across the planet in the blink of an eye.

As that information travels at the speed of light across the globe, the energy of the light waves bouncing around inside the silica and polymer fibres create tiny vibrations that lead to feedback packets of sound or acoustic waves, known as ‘phonons’.

This feedback causes light to disperse, a phenomenon known as ‘Brillouin scattering’.

For most of the electronics and communications industry, this scattering of light is a nuisance, reducing the power of the signal. But for an emerging group of scientists this feedback process is being adapted to develop a new generation of integrated circuits that promise to revolutionise our 5G and broadband networks, sensors, satellite communication, radar systems, defence systems and even radio astronomy.

“It’s no exaggeration to say there is a research renaissance into this process under way,” said Professor Ben Eggleton, Director of the University of Sydney Nano Institute and co-author of a review paper published today in Nature Photonics.

The application of this interaction between light and sound on a chip offers the opportunity for a third-wave revolution in integrated circuits

The microelectronics discoveries after World War II represented the first wave in integrated circuitry, which led to the ubiquity of electronic devices that rely on silicon chips, such as the mobile phone. The second wave came at the turn of this century with the development of optical electronics systems that have become the backbone of huge data centres around the world.

First electricity then light. And now the third wave is with sound waves.

Professor Eggleton is a world-leading researcher investigating how to apply this photon-phonon interaction to solve real-world problems. His research team based at the Sydney Nanoscience Hub and the School of Physics has produced more than 70 papers on the topic.

Working with other global leaders in the field, today he has published a review article in Nature Photonics outlining the history and potential of what scientists refer to as ‘Brillouin integrated photonics’. His co-authors are Professor Christopher Poulton at the University of Technology Sydney; Professor Peter Rakich from Yale University; Professor Michael Steel at Macquarie University; and Professor Gaurav Bahl from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Professor Bahl said: “This paper outlines the rich physics that emerges from such a fundamental interaction as that between light and sound, which is found in all states of matter.

“Not only do we see immense technological applications, but also the wealth of pure scientific investigations that are made possible. Brillouin scattering of light helps us measure material properties, transform how light and sound move through materials, cool down small objects, measure space, time and inertia, and even transport optical information.”

Professor Poulton said: “The big advance here is in the simultaneous control of light and sound waves on really small scales.

“This type of control is incredibly difficult, not least because the two types of waves have extremely different speeds. The enormous advances in fabrication and theory outlined in this paper demonstrate that this problem can be solved, and that powerful interactions between light and sound such as Brillouin scattering can now be harnessed on a single chip. This opens the door to a whole host of applications that connect optics and electronics.”

Professor Steel said: “One of the fascinating aspects of integrated Brillouin technology is that it spans the range from fundamental discoveries in sound-light interactions at the quantum level to very practical devices, such as flexible filters in mobile communications.”

The scattering of light caused by its interaction with acoustic phonons was predicted by French physicist Leon Brillouin in 1922.

Feedback loop

In the 1960s and 1970s an interesting process was discovered where you could create an enhanced feedback loop between the photons (light) and phonons (sound). This is known as stimulated Brillouin scattering (SBS).

In this SBS process light and sound waves are ‘coupled’, a process enhanced by the fact that the wavelength of the light and sound are similar, although their speeds are many orders of magnitude apart: light travels 100,000 times faster than sound, which explains why you see lightning before you hear thunder.

But why would you want to increase the power of this Brillouin feedback effect?

“Managing information on a microchip can take up a lot of power and produce a lot of heat,” Professor Eggleton said.

“As our reliance on optical data has increased, the process of interaction of light with microelectronics systems has become problematic. The SBS process offers us a completely new way to integrate optical information into a chip environment using sound waves as a buffer to slow down the data without the heat that electronic systems produce.

“Further, integrated circuits using SBS offer the opportunity to replace components in flight and navigation systems that can be 100- or a 1000-times heavier. That will not be a trivial achievement.”

Reducing complexity

How to contain the process of light-sound interaction has been the sticking point, but as Professor Eggleton and colleagues point out in Nature Photonics today, the past decade has seen tremendous advances.

In 2017, researchers Dr Birgit Stiller and Moritz Merklein from the Eggleton Group at the University of Sydney announced the world-first transfer of light to acoustic information on a chip. To emphasise the difference between the speeds of light and sound, this was described as ‘storing lightning inside thunder’.

Dr Amol Choudhary further developed this work in 2018, developing a chip-based information recovery technique that eliminated the need for bulky processing systems.

“It’s all about reducing complexity of these systems so we can develop a general conceptual framework for a complete integrated system,” Professor Eggleton said.

There is increasing interest from industry and government in the deployment of these systems.

Sydney Nano has recently signed a partnership with the Royal Australian Air Force to work with its Plan Jericho program to revolutionise RAAF’s sensing capability. Companies such as Lockheed Martin and Harris Corporation are also working with the Eggleton Group.

Storing thunder inside lightning.

Conceptual animation showing the first successful use of SBS process on a chip.

Challenges ahead

There are barriers to overcome before this chip-scale integrated system can be deployed commercially, but the payoff in terms of size, weight and power (SWAP) will be worth the effort, Professor Eggleton said.

The first challenge is to develop an architecture that integrates microwave and radio frequency processors with optical-acoustic interactions. As the Eggleton Group results show, there have been great strides towards achieving this.

Another challenge comes with reducing ‘noise’ (or interference) in the system caused by unwanted light scattering that deteriorates the signal-to-noise ratio. One proposition is to have chips operating at cryogenic temperatures near absolute zero. While this would have significant practical implications, it could also bring quantum processes into play, delivering greater control of the photon-phonon interaction.

There is also a live investigation into the most appropriate materials upon which to build these integrated systems. Silicon has its obvious attractions given most microelectronics are built using this cheap, abundant material.

However, the silica used in the optic fibres when coupled with the silicon substrate means that information can leak out given the similarity of materials.

Finding materials that are elastic and inelastic enough to contain the light and sound waves while allowing them to interact is one suggested avenue. Some research groups use chalcogenide, a soft glass substrate with a high refractive index and low stiffness that can confine the optical and elastic waves.

Co-author of the review, Professor Steel from Macquarie University, said: “At this stage, all material systems have their strengths and weaknesses, and this is still an area of fruitful research.

Professor Eggleton said: “This new paradigm in signal processing using light waves and sound waves opens new opportunities for fundamental research and technological advances.”

Learn more: Brillouin scattering: a third wave emerges in integrated circuits

The Latest on: Brillouin integrated photonics
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World First: Undersea robot dispersed microscopic baby corals to repopulate parts of the Great Barrier Reef

Larvalbot moves across the coral reef

In a world first, an undersea robot has dispersed microscopic baby corals (coral larvae) to help scientists working to repopulate parts of the Great Barrier Reef during this year’s mass coral spawning event.

Ecology and technology have combined to give nature a helping hand, using a robot to deliver heat tolerant coral larvae directly onto the Great Barrier Reef in the first small scale pilot of a new technique to help restore and recover coral reefs.

In a world first, an undersea robot has dispersed microscopic baby corals (coral larvae) to help scientists working to repopulate parts of the Great Barrier Reef during this year’s mass coral spawning event.

Six weeks after winning the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s $300,000 Out of the Blue Box Reef Innovation Challenge, Southern Cross University’s Professor Peter Harrison and QUT’s Professor Matthew Dunbabin trialled the ground-breaking initiative on Vlasoff Reef, near Cairns in north Queensland.

Professor Dunbabin engineered QUT’s reef protector RangerBot into LarvalBot specifically for the coral restoration project led by Professor Harrison.

The project builds on Professor Harrison’s successful larval reseeding technique piloted on the southern Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017 in collaboration with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service (QPWS), following successful small scale trials in the Philippines funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

“This year represents a big step up for our larval restoration research and 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,” Professor Harrison said.

“Winning the GBRF’s Reef Innovation Challenge meant that we could increase the scale of the work planned for this year using mega-sized spawn catchers and fast track an initial trial of LarvalBot as a novel method of dispersing the coral larvae out on to the Reef.

“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.

“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.”

This research and the larval production process was also directly supported by the recent successful SBIR 2018 Coral larval restoration research project on Vlasoff Reef led by Professor Harrison with Katie Chartrand (James Cook University) and Associate Professor David Suggett (University of Technology Sydney), in collaboration with Aroona Boat Charters, the GBRMPA and QPWS.

With a current capacity to carry around 100,000 coral larvae per mission and plans to scale up to millions of larvae, the robot gently releases the larvae onto damaged reef areas allowing it to settle and over time develop into coral polyps or baby corals.

Professor Dunbabin said LarvalBot could be compared to ‘an underwater crop duster’ operating very safely to ensure existing coral wasn’t disturbed.

“During this year’s trial, the robot was tethered so it could be monitored precisely but future missions will see it operate alone and on a much larger scale,” Professor Dunbabin said.

“Using an iPad to program the mission, a signal is sent to deliver the larvae and it is gently pushed out by LarvalBot. It’s like spreading fertiliser on your lawn.

“The robot is very smart, and as it glides along we target where the larvae need to be distributed so new colonies can form and new coral communities can develop.

“We have plans to do this again in Australia and elsewhere and I’m looking forward to working with Professor Harrison and Southern Cross University, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and other collaborators to help tackle an important problem.”

This project builds on the work by Professor Dunbabin who developed RangerBot to help control the coral-killing crown-of-thorns starfish which is responsible for 40 per cent of the reef’s decline in coral cover.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden said: “It’s exciting to see this project progress from concept to implementation in a matter of weeks, not years. The recent IPCC report highlights that we have a very short window in which to act for the long term future of the Reef, underscoring the importance of seeking every opportunity to give our reefs a fighting chance.

“This project is testament to the power of collaboration between science, business and philanthropy. With the support of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, whose longstanding support for coral reef conservation globally spans almost two decades, our international call for innovations to help the Reef has uncovered a solution that holds enormous promise for restoring coral reefs at scales never before possible.”

Following the success of this initial trial in 2018, the researchers plan to fully implement their challenge-winning proposal in 2019, building even larger mega spawn-catchers and solar powered floating larval incubation pools designed to rear hundreds of millions of genetically diverse, heat-tolerant coral larvae to be settled on damaged reefs through a combination of larval clouds and LarvalBots.

Learn more: Robot makes world-first baby coral delivery to Great Barrier Reef



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Is trophy hunting an acceptable and effective tool for wildlife conservation?

via OSU

Researchers at Oregon State University are challenging the premise that trophy hunting is an acceptable and effective tool for wildlife conservation and community development.

They argue that charging hunters to kill animals and claim body parts should be a last resort rather than a fallback plan.

In a paper published today in Conservation Letters, the researchers label the practice as morally inappropriate and say alternative strategies such as ecotourism should be fully explored and ruled out before trophy hunting is broadly endorsed.

“Trophies are body parts,” said lead author Chelsea Batavia, a Ph.D. student in OSU’s College of Forestry. “But when I read the literature, I don’t see researchers talking about them like that. Nobody’s even flinching. And at this point it seems to have become so normalized, no one really stops to think about what trophy hunting actually entails.”

Furthermore, the authors point out, the notion that trophy hunting is imperative to conservation seems to have taken hold largely without compelling empirical evidence. Such an assumption is not only unsubstantiated but can also serve to squelch the search for alternatives.

“Rejecting trophy hunting could open up space for innovation and creativity,” they write.

Batavia worked with colleagues in Oregon State’s Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society and collaborators from Canada and Australia. The idea for the paper occurred to them over the course of a review of scholarly literature on trophy hunting.

“Conservation scientists commonly recognize strong public opposition to the practice, and at times even point to some sort of ethical tension, but they don’t really define or address it,” Batavia said.

She and her co-authors decided it was time to break the silence and highlight an issue they suspect may underpin the public discomfort around trophy hunting – that it involves a hunter paying a fee to kill an animal and subsequently retaining some or all of the animal’s body as a trophy.

Part of the ongoing problem, the researchers write, is the word “trophy,” a sanitized expression for the tusks, ears, feet, heads, etc. that hunters remove from the animals’ bodies.

“It’s almost like an ethical distraction, calling it by some other name,” said co-author Michael Paul Nelson, a professor and the Ruth H. Spaniol Chair of Renewable Resources at OSU. “We have these metaphors that we hide behind. It’s like we recognize it’s an ethically loaded topic but we don’t know what to do about it. And we’ve tied conservation to the practice of trophy hunting – how do we get off that train?”

Proponents argue that trophy hunting supports conservation goals by generating money and reducing poaching and also that it bolsters local economies.

Nelson, Batavia and their co-authors recognize these benefits, but they counter that “collecting bodies or body parts as trophies is an ethically inappropriate way to interact with individual animals, regardless of the beneficial outcomes that do or do not follow.”

“We owe these animals some basic modicum of respect,” the researchers suggest. “To transform them into trophies of human conquest is a violation of common decency, and to accept trophy hunting as the international conservation community seems to have done is to aid and abet an immoral practice.”

If it’s determined that saving wildlife is inexorably linked to trophy hunting, conservationists should then “accept the practice only with a due appreciation of tragedy, and proper remorse,” the researchers write. They do acknowledge the possibility that future scientific research may suggest trophy hunting is in fact critical to the conservation mission in certain contexts.

“In that case trophy hunting should be used reluctantly,” they write. “The enthusiasm with which trophy hunting has already been championed as a potential conservation success story is misplaced. Trophy hunting violates the dignity of individual nonhuman animals, and is beneath our dignity as human beings. Continuing complicity by conservationists without fully exhausting other options is not now appropriate nor has it ever been.”

Learn more: OSU researchers question conservation community’s acceptance of trophy hunting


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With This Self-Cooling Roof, You Might Not Need AC

A new, ultra-reflective roof material is the first to stay cooler than the surrounding air

As summers keep getting hotter because of climate change, it sets up a vicious cycle: By the end of the century, the world may be using more than 30 times more energy for air conditioning, pushing temperatures up even more. But a new variation on cool roofs could help.

A typical dark roof soaks in sunlight, heating up the building underneath and releasing more heat back into the surrounding neighborhood at night. While cool roofs—made from white, reflective material—aren’t new, they still absorb some heat. A new material is the first to actually stay cooler than ambient air.

“What we set out to do was maximize the solar reflectance to see how far it could be pushed…to see the extent of further improvements that are possible with open roofing technologies,” says Angus Gentle, a researcher at the University of Technology Sydney, who developed the material along with physics professor Geoff Smith.

By adding layers of plastic on top of silver, the researchers were able to create a roof surface that bounces sunlight back into space, leaving it as much nine degrees cooler than a state-of-the-art cool roof. “The coating keeps the roof cool by reflecting almost all of the incoming solar radiation,” Gentle says. “A vast majority of this emitted radiation goes directly into space without being absorbed by the atmosphere.”

Compare that to a standard roof—which absorbs as much as 90% of light—or the best cool roofs, which can only reflect 70% to 85% of sun. “This still equates to a summer heat load of 150-300 watts per square meter of heat being absorbed,” says Gentle. In cities, roofs are a major driver of the so-called urban heat island effect, keeping urban neighborhoods several degrees warmer than less developed areas nearby.

Read more: With This Self-Cooling Roof, You Might Not Need AC


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