Coral Nurture Programme since May 2019

Ocean Free is very excited to continue to be part of this unique programme.

We, and five other high standard GBR operators in Cairns and Port Douglas region were invited to  take part in this project.

It follows a successful feasibility study completed by Dave Suggett and Dr Emma Camp of University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in partnership with John Edmonson. We joined with this great team, including Lorna Howlett (a Post Graduate student) – all of us equally passionate people on a project that “sits very well” in our philosophy of “nurturing” nature – not attempting to change it.

“A core objective of this program is to introduce coral planting into localised stewardship and adaption…… The Coral Nurture Program is a new approach for the Great Barrier Reef, initiated by a partnership between science and toursim. Our unique approach is not about “reef restoration” as such, rather long-term stewardship and adaptation at economically valuable reef locations , increasing readily available management tools beyond existing options to include boosting live coral cover by planting corals”

Why “Ocean Free  loved this project and was very excited to be part of :

  • We have already been “stewards” and protecting our reef sites for over 28 years – there is no person(s) or group who is more passionate and more protective about their permitted reef sites
  • We have been part of the COTS programme over many years and looked after our sites post cyclone events, and observed bleaching events and recovery levels
  • We have followed strict Marine Park regulations and practised and taught environmentally safe practices for snorkelling and diving  to our crew and guests, even before any Ecotourism accreditation was available – ensuring our reef sites were not damaged by tourism use and in so doing educated thousands of domestic and international visitors on these safe and responsible snorkelling and diving practices
  • Educated thousands of visitors on how to respectfully interact with the reef and marine life advocating also all Marine Park regulations – no harassing marine life, no standing / touching coral/ no feeding the fish, no rubbish overboard
  • We have been the “eyes” for GBRMPA reporting on any suspect behaviour on the reef
  • Part of the “Eye on the Reef” programme
  • We understand that nature is incredible and that whilst we are all excited to ensure the health and vibrancy of this incredible icon, we are also very mindful that any intervention applied to our reef sites must not upset or interfere with the balance of the site’s unique ecosystem
  • we are not out to change the reef’s ecosystem but preserve it as nature intended.

What is the Coral Nurture Programme?

Visit the Coral Nurture Program site here:

We follow a strict set of conditions set by Dave’s team and under strict permitting conditions of GBRMPA. The area is recorded and monitored regularly.

In practical terms

Coral fragments are “out-planted” (secured onto a natural coral substrate) in areas which have been affected by cyclone damage or a bleaching event and then grow in situ as it would following coral spawning and attaching to the substrate – except it is already a little older! The coral fragment, over some weeks, forms an attachment to the coral substrate and then secures its position in the ecosystem. Only coral from that particular reef site area is propagated and out-planted ensuring that we are just “filling” in the gaps that may have been caused by cyclone damage, rough wave action, or bleaching – essentially just giving nature a helping hand. By doing this, it is hoped that we may be able to give all visiting tourists more consistent reef experiences and that it will hopefully allow the reef to recover from these events in a more timely fashion by also having a “nursery” of coral fragments to outplant after such events.

Where do we get the coral fragments from?

They are collected in a couple of ways:

  1. By looking for “opportunity” coral fragments on the site – this may be due to breakages through rough weather, post cyclone where small fragments of coral have broken off
  2. By taking coral fragments from the nurseries* (see below)

These “opportunity” fragments are then either put in the nursery to grow and act as a “source” of coral or directly taken to outplant on the various areas of the reef where coral coverage has been affected due to cyclone or post bleaching event. The coral branches are very cleverly secured to the natural reef substrate by use of a Coralclip (devised by John Edmondson) so no toxic glues or other foreign substances used.

“Nursery” frames are set at certain positions on the reef site (the positions of which is decide by certain criteria).  “Opportunity” coral fragments are “collected” from that particular site and secured to the nursery frame, which then grow on the frame. The frame effectively becomes a “nursery” for coral growth or Coral Propagation – from which fragments can be tapped off and used for more out-planting.

Though, only being involved in this programme for a short time, we have already seen the potential for this simple and effective and “natural” technique.

From past experience following cyclones we had observed that the coral would survive and grow if turned over and placed somewhere secure, so it made complete sense when this new novel approach of securing smaller fragments onto the reef substrate, enabling a large amount of smaller fragments to be “secured”, in the available natural substrate and survive and thrive.

The beauty of this technique is that there is absolutely no interference with the natural substrate of the growing reef and there is no attempt to change the reef structure or species balance but just enhancing what is already there. The nursery frames are there purely to propagate coral from that specific site

So, come and learn about the Great Barrier Reef in a fun and informative way – do all or some of our activities – your choice.  If you are interested make sure you ask our crew – they are always willing to inform!

  • Be mesmerised by our informative Adventure Drift Snorkel tour with our Master Reef Guide or Marine Naturalist
  • Keep dry and jump on board our Glass Bottom Boat Tour
  • Take our optional extra dive and plunge a little deeper to see the Great Barrier Reef up close and personal
  • Be mesmerised by the abundance of reef life and if interested come and see our Coral Nurture programme in action – our crew will point out the nursery areas and some out-planting that has been done


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