(CNN) — The Great Barrier Reef has “given birth” in its annual coral spawn, creating a cacophony of color on the Australian landmark.
Scientists working beneath the waves say they witnessed the event, in which coral simultaneously release sperm and eggs en masse, overnight Tuesday off the coast of Cairns, Queensland, hailing it as a positive sign the reef was able to regenerate despite ecological threats.
“Nothing makes people happier than new life — and coral spawning is the world’s biggest proof of that,” Australian marine biologist Gareth Phillips, who had a front row seat to this year’s coral spawn, said in statement via Queensland Tourism and Events.
Philips, from research center Reef Teach, and his team of marine biologists, divers, students and photographers dived to the bottom of the ocean to capture footage of coral off the coast of Cairns, Queensland. Over the next couple days, they’ll be traveling to other reef sites to film and observe.
Coral spawning is an annual event on the Great Barrier Reef.
Gabriel Guzman/Calypso Productions
Philips called monitoring this year’s coral spawn off Cairns “the ultimate treasure hunt.”
“I’ve seen the corals all go off at once, but this time there seemed to be different species spawning in waves, one after the other. The conditions were magical with the water like glass and beautiful light coming from the moon,” he said.
Philips said his team swam around looking for coral on the verge of spawning.
“Once we found a ripe coral, we watched as it took about 30 seconds for each colony to complete its spawning. It was the ultimate treasure hunt … it was so exciting that we even grabbed the skipper and got him in the water.”
These photos were taken during the 2021 coral spawning on Flynn Reef, off the coast of Cairns, Queensland, Australia.
Gareth Phillips/Reef Teach
The Great Barrier Reef’s coral spawn is a coordinated annual effort — for much of the year, coral multiplies by splitting and dividing, but once a year the coral simultaneously releases bundles of sperm and egg into the ocean.
“Each coral larvae drifts until it lands and settles on the sea floor,” said Philips. “Spawning takes place over several days with different species spawning on different nights.”
The annual coral spawn usually takes place from October to November, but timings can vary due to factors like water temperature and currents. The date of the spawn can also fluctuate across the length and breadth of the 2,300 kilometer (1,429 mile)-long Great Barrier Reef.
Marine biologist Gareth Philips said this year’s conditions were “magical.”
Gareth Phillips/Reef Teach
Sign of hope
Philips said it was “gratifying” to see the reef give birth, an event loosely coinciding with Australia’s decision to start relaxing some of the world’s toughest Covid travel restrictions.
“It’s a strong demonstration that its ecological functions are intact and working after being in a recovery phase for more than 18 months,” he said.
“The reef has gone through its own troubles like we all have, but it can still respond — and that gives us hope. I think we must all focus on the victories as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Top photo courtesy Gareth Phillips/Reef Teach