The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program

The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP) brings together the best minds in science and technology from Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), CSIRO, James Cook University, The University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, as well as many other leading research universities and institutes.

The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program aims to create a suite of innovative and targeted measures that can be used for large-scale reef restoration and adaptation, to help the Reef help itself.

Prevention: reduce exposure to, and impacts of, disturbance

Prevention measures could include reducing corals’ exposure to extreme temperature stress by making environmental adjustments that, for example, increase shade or cool the water. It could also include assisting coral populations to more rapidly build natural resilience to threats such as higher temperatures, through measures such as selective breeding.

Repair: enhancing recovery after disturbances

Measures to help corals repair after events such coral bleaching, cyclones or ship groundings aim to accelerate natural recovery. These could include modifying reef surfaces to promote growth, as well as  producing and distributing coral larvae on a large scale.

Smart solutions

These measures must:

Australia’s brightest researchers have already begun working on creative solutions, but there is no simple quick-fix for this complex issue.

RRAP researchers have been assessing existing research and technology from around the world, to identify techniques that could be developed and rolled-out at the scale needed to help the Great Barrier Reef. Our expert team includes: reef ecologists, engineers, water and land management specialists, innovators and social scientists.

While the program is initially focused on developing technology and solutions to help the world’s largest reef, the solutions could also be applied to reefs around the world.

Helping deliver the Reef 2050 Plan

RRAP has been charged with delivering a key action of the Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.

Originally released in 2015, the plan was revised July 2018 to take into account unprecedented climate-driven mass coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 and severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017.

The revised plan identifies climate change as “the most pervasive and persistent risk to coral reefs world wide”.

It includes a new action under ‘protect and restore ecosystem health’: develop technologies to facilitate recovery of degraded reefs, and to build increased resilience under forward climate scenarios, including assessing the feasibility of increasing the thermal tolerance of Great Barrier Reef corals.

"The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program feasibility study is assessing the viability of increasing thermal tolerance of corals... and developing technologies to facilitate recovery of degraded reefs... Developing innovative solutions will be vital to build the resilience of the Reef in the face of climate change."

Industry and community consultation 

An essential part of the planning and feasibility assessment phase is understanding not only the likely ecological benefits and costs of any possible intervention, but also the economic and social benefits and risks.

RRAP is working with Traditional Owners and groups with a stake in the reef – as well as the general public - to discuss why these actions are needed, and to better understand how these groups see the risks and benefits of proposed interventions. This will help inform planning and prioritisation, to ensure the proposed actions meet community expectations.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the Traditional Owners of the Great Barrier Reef region. Evidence of their sea country connections goes back more than 60,000 years. Today there are approximately 70 Traditional Owner clan groups whose sea country includes the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Multi-phase program

There are three phases to the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program:

In 2018, the Australian Government provided $6M for the concept feasibility phase. The outcome will inform the spending of a further $100M allocated for reef resilience and adaptation science from 2019.

During concept feasibility we:

  • strengthened our understanding of the forecast declines in the state of coral reefs as a result of global temperature increases, and the types and scales of possible interventions required to maintain high-value reef functions.
  • identified possible ecological and physical interventions, and modelled the potential benefits, costs and risks.
  • undertook preliminary design and costing for the research and development and implementation of possible interventions.
  • consolidated understanding of the ecological, economic and social risk and social acceptability of intervention.
  • developed engineering concepts to help understand the feasibility, costs and challenges associated with the proposed interventions.
  • analysed regulatory, institutional and social factors and the drivers in future restoration research and implementation activities.
  • engaged with the international reef conservation and restoration community to leverage efforts in Australia.
  • developed a proposed long-term research and development and innovation program.