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Cauliflower Coral Conservation Project

Major conservation breakthrough for endangered East Coast coral

An innovative, coral-conservation project between SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium and NSW DPI Fisheries Research has achieved what marine biologists are calling a breakthrough success.

We have been working to establish a recovery programme for one of Australia’s most fragile species - the cauliflower soft coral. The coral was designated as one of the 100 Priority Species for the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy in 2021.

This project, supported by the Environment Restoration Fund, has achieved a significant scientific milestone within its first year. The team were able to prove the long-term viability of cloned coral in an aquarium setting.

The developments have led to the species re-introduction, with 200 cuttings recently returned to Port Stephens and Sydney Harbour. This represents a significant increase in the population and is a pivotal step in preventing the extinction of one of the most critical endemic species of coral found only along the east coast of Australia.

Soft Coral Setup In Aquaria

The ground-breaking work will be particularly impactful as cauliflower soft coral also provides habitat for the endangered White’s seahorse around Sydney Harbour and Port Stephens.

This week, divers from SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium conducted a health-check on the corals placed in Sydney Harbour and determined an 82% success rate for the re-planted coral - with 65% found to be very healthy and a further 17% found to be alive, but in need of some extra care.          

Dr David Harasti, Senior Marine Scientist, Fisheries Research NSW Department of Primary Industries Fisheries Research, said, “The soft coral is at risk of disappearing from several locations in NSW. In the past five years, the soft coral colonies in Port Stephens have declined by 99%, primarily as a result of the large flood events.

“The growing of the soft corals in an aquarium and transplanting back into the wild is a pivotal step in preventing the extinction of one of the most critical endemic species of coral found only along the east coast of Australia.”

Laura Simmons, SEA LIFE Regional Curator Australia and New Zealand, said, “The cauliflower soft coral is incredibly important due to its unique nature and vulnerability and the advances we’ve made are really exciting! Furthermore, they can help protect and recover other threatened species, including the Endangered White’s seahorse, another conservation focus for SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium’s partnership with DPI Fisheries.”

Our team will now monitor the corals closely to understand if the re-introduced population is thriving or if it is being targeted by predators. When the results are through, they’ll determine what next steps are needed to help recover the vulnerable species. Stay tuned to learn what's to come for this amazing coral species! 

Soft Corals On Adelaide1 S

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Learn more from Laura Simmons, SEA LIFE Regional Curator, Australia & New Zealand

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