Coral Propagation: Reproductive Biology and Growth of Fishery-Targeted Coral Species

Location: Paget, QLD

Duration: 5 months

Proposed start date: 15 October 2018

Keywords: Aquaculture, Coral Spawning, Coral Reproduction, Propagation, Coral Husbandry, Coral Fishery

Please note: This is a collaborative research project with James Cook University and is open to JCU students only. Due to funding requirements, students must have Australian Citizenship or Permanent Residency to apply. Any applicants not meeting this requirement will automatically be deemed ineligible for this project.

Project Background

The commercial harvest of scleractinian corals from Australian reefs has risen consistently over the past decade to meet the increasing demand for live specialty corals from aquarium hobbyists worldwide. This fishery is generally considered sustainable; however, a significant portion of the targeted species remain largely understudied, with critical knowledge gaps relating to species-specific life history and biological traits. These key knowledge gaps limit the ability of fisheries managers to formulate informed decisions and management strategies, as well as the ability of industry partners to effectively pursue commercially viable propagation of corals.

Ultra Coral Australia are collaborating with James Cook University to fill these knowledge gaps through periodic sampling, field surveys, and targeted research in our facility. The outcomes of this project will have important implications on future regulatory policies, particularly those involving size and harvest limits. At the same time, this information will help to establish best practices for the ex situ propagation of coral species targeted by the aquarium industry, especially in light of unprecedented reef degradation following the recent mass bleaching events and damage caused by ongoing disturbances such cyclones and crown-of-thorns starfish predation.

Research to be Conducted

To address the above-mentioned issues, Ultra Coral Australia, through its research department (UCA Research), will be conducting transect surveys at distribution hotspots and collecting samples (between August and February) of the following priority coral species: Homophyllia (Scolymia) australis, Micromussa (Acanthastrea) lordhowensis, Trachyphyllia geoffroyi, and Euphyllia glabrescens. These samples will be examined to assess the gametogenesis, sexuality, and size at reproductive maturity of these species. In addition, other samples will be used as broodstock for spawning (between October and December) to study the reproductive mode and timing of spawning for these species. Growth rates of recruits and fragmentations will be monitored monthly by measuring changes in weight, diameter, and surface area using photogrammetry techniques.

Skills Required

Ultra Coral Australia are looking for a PhD student with the following skills:

Essential

  • Strong knowledge of coral biology and ecology
  • Demonstrated experience in data collection and proficiency in Microsoft Excel and Word
  • Practical knowledge of coral husbandry, spawning, larval culture techniques
  • SCUBA accreditation with updated dive medical, CPR, and O2 certifications

Desirable

  • PhD project broadly related to coral biology and passion for coral conservation
  • Basic skills in preparing and analysing slides for histology
  • Some aquarium experimental background with focus on corals

Expected Outcomes

By the end of the project, Ultra Coral Australia expect to determine key reproductive traits (sexuality, reproductive mode, size at maturity, spawning periodicity) of target species and have a better idea of the natural and captive growth rates of target species. This will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and fed into the Coral Trait Database.

This information will be considered in establishing best practices for sexual and asexual propagation of corals and provide captive-bred corals to our customers, which will ultimately result in significant reductions of wild harvest. Finally, although this may not be achieved within the proposed duration of this internship, the aim is to also have a clearer picture of the distribution, abundance, and size structure of target species (and relevant colour morphs), which will be important in formulating policies to regulate the coral fishery in the future.

Additional Details

The intern will receive $3,000 per month of the internship, usually in the form of stipend payments.

It is expected that the intern will primarily undertake this research project during regular business hours, spending at least 80% of their time on-site with the industry partner.  The intern will be expected to maintain contact with their academic mentor throughout the internship either through face-to-face or phone meetings as appropriate.

The intern and their academic mentor will have the opportunity to negotiate the project’s scope, milestones and timeline during the project planning stage.

To participate in the APR.Intern program, all applicants must satisfy the following criteria:

  • Be a PhD student currently enrolled at an Australian university
  • PhD candidature must be confirmed
  • Applicants must have the written approval of their Principal Supervisor to undertake the internship. This approval must be submitted at the time of application.
  • Internships are also subject to any requirements stipulated by the student’s and the academic mentor’s university
Applications Close

 15 August 2018

Reference

INT – 0429