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Thursday, November 21, 2013

No barrier to great sex on Queensland’s reef this year

The scuba diving fraternity along Queensland’s coast is gearing up for the biggest sex show on the planet as the world’s largest living organism, the Great Barrier Reef, prepares for the annual coral spawning season.

With sea temperatures already hovering above the magic 26 degree mark and a late November full moon expected to slow tidal flow to twice a day reducing the chance of sweeping the spawn out to sea, marine scientists believe this year’s November 22-24 spawn spectacular will be the best in years.

Tusa Dive and Quicksilver’s Silverswift, two Cairns based dive operators, have packaged special night diving tours specifically around the event.

 According to Russell Hore, a veteran marine biologist with Quicksilver, “coral spawning is the Everest of seeing reproduction in nature and should be on every diver’s bucket list.”

“A lot of factors need to align before you can see the reef go off,” he said.

Tusa_Coral Spawning
“To begin with, spawning tends to happen at night when plankton feeders are asleep (allowing eggs time to fertilize) and you need almost perfect tides, weather and temperatures.

“When you narrow it down to an event that is hit and miss; and you actually get to see it, then it’s something you will remember forever.”

A marine biologist since 1989, Hore has three spawning experiences under his own weight belt and says divers can expect to see eggs popping out of the coral.

“When a big boulder coral goes off, it releases an underwater snow storm and you get to see hundreds of bundles floating to the surface.

“You know when it is happening. There’s a slick on the surface and the smell on one hand, while on the other, most of the fish life are sitting on the bottom with distended stomachs. It’s like they have stuffed themselves with Tim Tams.”

Contrary to popular belief, Hore adds that too much sex is not a good thing when it comes to coral.

“You don’t want it to get too crazy. If you get too much spawn at once, visibility goes down.

“You also don’t want the reef to produce sperm at the same time as eggs or there’s a risk of self fertilisation and a potential impact on the reef’s gene pool.

“A 30 minute delay and a gentle tide are definitely best,” he said.

Twelve hundred kilometres south of Cairns, Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort dive instructor Ryan Jeffery said anyone who misses the northern reef’s spawning season in November can get a second shot at it on the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

“Being at the southern end of the 2700km long reef, the water around Lady Elliot Island takes a little longer to hit the perfect 26 degrees and marine experts predict coral spawning will happen this year sometime between December 20 and 25.

“That’s going to be a great Christmas present for anyone here during the holiday season.”

Station Manager at neighbouring Heron Island Research Station, Doctor Elizabeth Perkins will be working with a team of University of Queensland post graduate researchers to collect spawn and conduct experiments relating to climate change.

A keen fan of what she calls ‘reproduction on a mass scale’, Dr Perkins agrees the Southern Great Barrier Reef is a good place to watch spawning.

“With the diversity and number of coral here on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, the spectacle is incredible.”

“If you pick the right night, it’s amazing to see the release. The water is alive with creatures feeding on the eggs,” she said.

“This time of year there are also turtles mating in the ocean and laying eggs on the beaches; and the waters are full of mantas (rays),

“There is a definite buzz about the reef.”

It’s not all positive. Doctor Perkins warns there is also a smell that “you don’t realise from watching it on the Discovery Channel.”

For travellers unable to go on the night dives, the lead up to coral spawning offers an exclusive insight into the reef’s birthing process.

Quicksilver’s Hore says if you get up close to the coral just before spawning, “you can actually see distinct little colorations in the mouth of the coral, little signs that ejaculation on a mass scale is about to take place.

“It’s almost like you are experiencing a pregnancy on a really small scale – without the demand for ice cream!”

Irrespective of where divers choose to be, Perkins, Jeffery and Hore all agree that Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef is the best place in the world to see the phenomenon.

“Biologically, it’s the most diverse system in the world and there are more corals here than anywhere else,” Perkins said.

“When we talk about mass coral spawning, we are talking about branching types of coral, which make up 60 percent of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef.”

“It’s also a lot cleaner here than other places around the world,” adds Jeffery.

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