- Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS) stars are helping to rehabilitate small areas of the Great Barrier Reef
- MARRS stars are steel structures that provide a stable base for coral fragments to grow and support coral cover
- The Yarul Dhingiga: Keppel Bay reef rehabilitation project is using the stars to rehabilitate inshore fringing reefs at Great Keppel Island and Humpy Island Reef
- The project was delivered by the Reef Joint Field Management Program, which is a partnership between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
A key part of the Reef Joint Field Management Program's role in protecting and managing the Great Barrier Reef is helping to rehabilitate it after it has been impacted by a disturbance.
This could include impacts from cyclones, storms, climate change or the coral eating crown-of-thorns starfish.
One innovative technique that is providing positive outcomes for Reef rehabilitation is the Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS) stars.
MARRS stars are steel structures with live coral fragments attached. They are placed on the reef and as the coral fragments grow over time, they help improve coral cover.
The stars have potential to help small areas of the Reef naturally recover. This includes ‘high value’ areas, like popular tourist sites.
The Yarul Dhingiga: Keppel Bay reef rehabilitation project is using the reef stars to rehabilitate inshore fringing reefs at Great Keppel Island and Humpy Island Reef.
The project was delivered by the Reef Joint Field Management Program, which is a partnership between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Reef Authority) and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
Innovation, collaboration and education
The Yarul Dhingiga project was named by the Woppaburra People, the Traditional Owners of the Great Keppel Island.
Yarul means connecting and Dhingiga means laying down.
The location, Keppel Bay islands, provides an ideal location to test the capacity of the Reef stars in rehabilitating inshore, fringing reefs.
Yarul Dhingiga started in 2022. It has involved strong collaboration between a range of partners including:
- the Reef Authority
- Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS)
- the Woppaburra TUMRA Aboriginal Corporation
- tourism operators.
“Commitment to the trial will extend over 5 years and include training in the use of reef stars for Reef Joint Field Management Program staff, tourism partners, and Traditional Owners – the Woppaburra people,” said QPWS project manager, Collette Bagnato.
“In return, these partners offer invaluable, ongoing support with regular monitoring and maintenance of the reef stars and demonstrating reef stewardship in action to visitors.”
Through the project:
- more than 3000 live coral fragments were attached to 250 stars and placed on the Reef.
- 200 stars were placed at Monkey Beach and Shelving Point reefs.
- 50 stars were placed on Humpy Island Reef.
Initial monitoring showed the coral fragments attached well to the stars.
The coral mortality rate was less than 2%. Coral cover was improving across the project sites.
“Currently all 3 sites are looking very healthy with noticeable growth and mortality continues to be low,” said Reef Authority project manager Neil Mattocks.
“The team continues to maintain the site, including tightening of some of the ties and fragments onto the reef stars. All in all, the team is very excited about the project’s progress so far.”
Regular, ongoing site management and detailed monitoring is being undertaken to establish the level of coral recovery.
This will also provide opportunities to investigate how the reef stars could integrate into the work of marine park managers in the future.
The project has also provided important opportunities for education and awareness.
It is supporting tourism operators to educate tourists about pressures on the Great Barrier Reef and action being taken to mitigate them.
“The focus of this trial is to develop rehabilitation tools for the Reef’s management toolbox, should help be required following major weather events or devastating crown-of-thorn starfish outbreaks,” said Reef Authority project manager, Mr Neil Mattocks.
“Trials like this one are small in scale and are not a replacement for major global action to address greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of climate change on coral reefs around the world.”
Important part of the bigger picture
Mars Incorporated developed MARRS reef stars to rehabilitate reefs in Indonesia that were impacted by blast fishing.
They are being trialled in various areas across the Great Barrier Reef to assist with natural recovery in small areas.
Helping the Reef to restore and recover is an important part of building its resilience to threats, including climate change.
Australia is supporting global efforts to address the impact of climate change.
Projects like the Reef Joint Field Management Program's Yarul Dhingiga are an important part of the large, collective effort being undertaken to protect and manage the Reef now and into the future.
The Keppel Bay reef rehabilitation project is supported through the Australian Government’s Reef Trust program, with financial support from environmental approval holders.