The Program

Why do we need to help the reef?

Despite being one of the best-managed coral reef ecosystems in the world, the Great Barrier Reef is under extreme pressure from climate change.

Around the world, climate change is triggering more frequent and severe coral bleaching, more extreme weather events and ocean acidification.

Modelling shows that even in the best-case scenario of carbon emissions reduction, water temperatures will continue to increase until 2050.

In addition to best-practice reef management, and global action to reduce carbon emissions, bold action is urgently needed to help protect the Great Barrier Reef.

The RRAP Concept Feasibility Study

In 2018, the Australian Government provided $6M for the RRAP consortium to determine the feasibility of intervening at scale on the Great Barrier Reef to help it adapt to, and recover from, the effects of climate change.

Such interventions would need to:

Protect key ecological functions and economic and social values of the Great Barrier Reef
Protect key ecological functions and economic and social values of the Great Barrier Reef
Be logistically feasible to deploy at scale
Be logistically feasible to deploy at scale
Be at a price point that is affordable to deploy across entire reef scapes.
Be at a price point that is affordable to deploy across entire reef scapes.

Over 18 months, RRAP conducted the world’s most rigorous and comprehensive investigation into small-, medium- and large-scale reef intervention, drawing on more than 150 experts from more than 20 organisations across the globe.

The RRAP Concept Feasibility Study found successful intervention was possible and could double the likelihood of sustaining the Reef in good condition by 2050. But time was of the essence: the longer we waited, the more expensive and difficult it would be to successfully intervene at any scale, and the greater the risk the window of opportunity would close.
The study found there was no single silver bullet solution, rather a range of methods would be needed to work together to provide compounding benefits, along with ongoing best-practice reef management and emissions reduction.

The RRAP R&D Program

RRAP is embarking on a long-term research and development (R&D) program to develop, test and risk-assess novel interventions to help keep the Reef resilient and sustain critical functions and values.

The goal is to provide reef managers and decision-makers with an innovative suite of safe, acceptable and cost-effective interventions to help protect the Reef from the impacts of climate change, in conjunctions with best-practice reef management and reducing carbon emissions.

RRAP will be in a race against time to produce solutions. Delaying action will almost certainly mean loss of critical Reef value and function.

This ambitious undertaking requires not only our best minds working in partnership across many organisations and fields of expertise, but importantly, the input and support of Traditional Owners, reef communities and industries, and the wider Australian public.

While RRAP is initially focused on developing technology and solutions to help the Great Barrier Reef, these solutions could also be applied to other reefs in Australia and around the world.

Multi-pronged program diagram

The RRAP R&D Program

RRAP aims to deliver an integrated, properly governed and executed 10-year R&D program to provide a level of health insurance for the Reef by developing safe and effective new interventions before they become critically needed.

The R&D Program is designed to be responsive to the range of possible climate outcomes and the range of the Reef’s ecological responses to this changing environment.

It aims to reduce critical uncertainty, improve understanding of the system and quickly narrow a set of optimal interventions.

These interventions would provide an integrated, three-point approach:

  • cooling and shading the Reef to help protect it from the impacts of climate change
  • assisting Reef species to adapt to the changing environment
  • supporting natural restoration of damaged and degraded reefs.

The RRAP Concept Feasibility Study investigated 160 potential interventions and long-listed 43. These 43 potential interventions will continue to be filtered throughout the R&D program at set stage gates. Interventions with the highest likelihood of success will progress to development stage.

Interventions aimed at prevention will be prioritised over those aimed at repair, as it will be faster and ultimately more effective to protect the reef and help it adapt to climate change than to try to help it recover after damage or destruction.

Potential interventions will be rigorously tested and risk-assessed. They would be implemented at an effective scale if, when and where it is decided action is needed.

RRAP adds a critical new set of strategy options to the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.

Dr Dan Harrison preparing for the first cloud brightening field trial in 2020

Dr Dan Harrison preparing for the first cloud brightening field trial in 2020. Photo courtesy of Southern Cross University.

R&D program structure

An integrated, properly governed and executed 10-year R&D program will provide a level of health insurance for the Reef by developing safe and effective new interventions before they become critically needed.

A series of complementary subprograms will deliver the R&D program outcomes: cross-cutting and engineering subprograms will support a suite of intervention-focused R&D teams.

R&D Program Structure diagram

RRAP R&D Program structure. The intervention-focused subprograms will be supported by cross-cutting science and engineering subprograms.

The R&D subprograms work together:

The Engagement Subprogram facilitates and guides engagement with Traditional Owners, key stakeholders and community groups and interests in the co-design and evaluation of proposed interventions or technologies.

The Regulatory Subprogram helps develop a robust and enabling regulatory environment for reef restoration and adaptation, and a world-leading regulatory and policy best-practice for reef adaption and restoration.

The Decision Support Subprogram

The Decision Support Subprogram provides the framework upon which to assess different intervention options and R&D investment prioritisation and focus.

The Modelling Subprogram

The Modelling Subprogram develops models to improve predictions of the impact of proposed interventions considering multiple future scenarios to guide investment and intervention actions.

The EcoRRAP (Ecological Intelligence for reef restoration) Subprogram fills key knowledge gaps essential for the success and cost-effectiveness of reef interventions.

The Cooling and Shading Subprogram investigates technologies to prevent or reduce coral bleaching by reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching the Reef. This includes creating shade through clouds, mist, fog or surface films to reduce solar radiation during high-risk periods for coral bleaching.

The Moving Corals Subprogram develops the means to cost-effectively produce billions of genetically-diverse coral larvae with enhanced environmental tolerance for large-scale restoration.

The Rubble Stabilisation Subprogram investigates methods to stabilise damaged reef surfaces where dead or degraded corals have become loose and unconsolidated rubble, preventing or slowing reef recovery.

The Enhanced Corals and Treatment Subprogram delivers a comprehensive understanding of the innate capacity of corals to adapt to current and projected temperature changes and evaluate the benefits and risks of enhancing heat and bleaching tolerance through selected movement, breeding or treatments.

The Coral Propagation and Aquaculture Subprogram delivers the means to reliably breed corals in captivity at low cost, at a medium to large scale, using sexual and asexual methods.

The Early Phase Intervention Assessments Subprogram

The Early Phase Intervention Assessments Subprogram conducts desktop reviews of new and emerging interventions to determine whether R&D investment is warranted.

The Cryopreservation Subprogram delivers the capability to preserve the genetic material of prioritised coral species at scale, through cool to very low-temperature storage.

The Development Logistics and Automation Subprogram develops technology to substantially increase the efficacy and productivity of interventions developed.

The first five years

During the first five years of the RRAP R&D Program, the focus is on delivering the necessary underlying cross-cutting research (support and engineering research sub-programs that underpin the success of all, or groups of, interventions), and moving smaller-scale interventions to deployment stage. As the program progresses, the focus will shift to deployment of larger-scale interventions.

RRAP strategy to progressively deliver interventions and refine the focus of the R&D program as research findings improve knowledge of feasibility, risks, efficacy, social acceptance and regulatory compliance.

The first stage of the RRAP R&D Program, beginning in the second half of 2020, is funded through the $100M allocated for reef restoration and adaptation science as part of the $443.3M partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. This will be supplemented with $100M each from philanthropy and research providers.

Further details of the R&D program design principles are provided in R4: Research and Development Program.

RRAP Investment Case and Concept Feasibility Study Reports