QUT | Future adhesion | sticking to reef restoration

Awards category
The Problem Solver Award
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The Great Barrier Reef is not only a social and iconic asset for Australians, it is also worth a lot of money. The reef is valued at $56 billion and generates $6.4 billion annually to the Australian economy. Similarly, the Great Southern Reef supports important ecosystems valued more than $11 billion each year.  

However, we all know Australia’s valuable natural assets are threatened by human activities and accelerating climate change. That’s why the Queensland University of Technology’s Bioadhesives Team turned their attention to what they could do to help restore, prevent and reverse damage.  

The team began developing a new range of ecofriendly underwater bioadhesives optimised for coral transplanting and stabilising coral rubble to repair damaged coral reefs. They are also now trialing new underwater bioadhesives to restore kelp forests on the Great Southern Reef.  

A stated goal is to plant up to 100 million corals per year by 2030 to protect and restore the Great Barrier Reef.

The underwater adhesive development puts the team on the cusp of revolutionising marine restoration practices and positions Australia as a leader in reducing the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Looking to the future, sustainable and scalable underwater adhesives will find uses in defense, research and commercial sectors.  

Finalists - Queensland University of Technology

I’d like to share my strong support for the application from the Queensland University of Technology Bioadhesive Team for a Shaping Australia Problem Solver Award.  

2021-2030 is the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration, setting the stage for a global movement to prevent and reverse loss of nature. Interest is growing for the restoration of marine ecosystems, especially those that provide important goods and services for humanity. Coral reefs are one of the most valuable ecosystems, supporting the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people. For example, the Great Barrier Reef is an Australian economic, social, and iconic asset valued at $56 billion.

Restoration of coral reefs has generally been expensive and undertaken at small scales in the past. One of the bottlenecks in coral restoration is ways to rapidly attach coral fragments, or small coral colonies to the reef substrate. Currently this is often undertaken using nails and plastic cable ties. The production of non-toxic, sustainable bioadhesives has the potential to increase the speed and scale of coral attachment and reduce costs. Other potential uses include connecting pieces of coral rubble so that they are more stable and therefore facilitating natural recovery, and connecting different parts of coral seeding devices, allowing from surface deployment of young corals. There is an urgent need for environmentally friendly bioadhesives internationally, with many potential uses supporting restoration and other maritime activities.  

The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP) is a global leader in coral reef restoration and adaptation research and solution deployment, bringing together Australian and international experts to create an innovative suite of solutions, to protect, restore and build more resilient reefs. Development of these Bioadhesives is an important part of RRAP. As the former Program Director of the RRAP I’m familiar with and impressed with this team’s work.

Dr Ian McLeod

Professorial Research Fellow Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER)

Professorial Research Fellow Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER) underwater forests support incredible biological diversity, including marine invertebrates, fish, mammals, and birds. These ecosystems also provide a broad range of services including supporting commercially valuable species, improving local water quality, buffering coastlines from erosion, and supporting coastal tourism. Unfortunately, like many marine ecosystems, kelp forests are under threat and have declined in many locations. Habitat restoration is one potential tool for the conservation and management of these critically important environments and has the potential to benefit coastal communities and economies.

TNC Australia is currently involved with multiple kelp restoration projects across Australia’s Great Southern Reef and continues to increase its work to assist with the recovery of these critical ecosystems. We focus on cooperative partnerships with universities, state, and federal government, and the private sector to leverage funding and innovation that progresses marine restoration knowledge and effectiveness.

However, kelp forest restoration is still in its early days both in Australia and elsewhere, and there are challenges of employing cost-effective and scalable methods for replanting kelp as part of restoration interventions. We are always enthusiastic about exploring new methods that can help overcome these challenges, such as the use of ecofriendly bioadhesives. This method shows promise as a simple and scalable way of planting kelp, to increase the efficacy of kelp restoration actions. Moreover, such technical solutions and lessons are readily applicable to kelp forest restoration outside of Australia and have real potential for global impact.

Kirk Dahle

South-east manager, Seascapes (Australia Program)

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