Coral Spawning - the Best in 5 Years

Hard and soft corals at our Moore Reef Marine Base, spawned spectacularly this year. The abundance and variety of spawn released amazed our expert team of filmmakers, photographers, marine biologists and Master Reef Guides.

The magic of the Great Barrier Reef is no more evident than during a very special few days of the year when in a show of rejuvenation and renewal,corals give birth and start spawning. The coral spawning at our Moore Reef Marine Base on the Outer Great Barrier Reef on November 16 and 17 was the best in five years.

The team of experts included:

  • Stuart Ireland – Marine Biologist, photographer, filmmaker, and owner of Calypso Reef Imagery has been filming the coral spawn every year since 1996. This was his eighth year he has documented the event at our Moore Reef Marine Base.
  • Gareth Philips – Marine Biologist, Master Reef Guide and owner of Reef Teach, the leading Great Barrier Reef educator
  • Pablo Cogollos – Sunlover Marine Biologist and Master Reef Guide, photographer and filmmaker. See his work on his Instagram pablocogollos
  • Jennie Gilbert – Marine Biologist and co-founder of the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.
  • Gabriel Guzman – photographer with Calypso Reef Imagery, influencer and Insta360 specialist. View Gab's still images in the gallery. See his work on Instagram underwater_images
  • Shannon Myers – photographer, influencer and amazing underwater model. Check out her Instagram dive_down_under

Watch Pablo's incredible coral spawning video below - all shot at our Moore Reef Marine Base 2019.

Learn more about the coral spawning event and what it means for the Great Barrier Reef in the media releases below.

Night 1 November 16

Hard corals alongside the Sunlover Moore Reef Marine Base, 54km off Cairns, spawned last night (Sunday, November 17) after a spectacular display by the Great Barrier Reef’s soft corals on the night before.

Marine biologists Stuart Ireland from Calypso Productions, Gareth Phillips from Reef Teach, Jennie Gilbert from Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and Pablo Cogollos from Sunlover Reef Cruises were based on the Sunlover Moore Reef Marine Base to capture photos and video of the night-time coral spawning.

Mr Cogollos said the release of countless coral eggs and sperm onto the Great Barrier Reef was a spectacular display at Moore Reef where a variety of both hard and soft corals were observed spawning.

“There was three times the volume of eggs and sperm compared to last year when the soft corals spawned four nights after the full moon and the hard corals spawned on the fifth night and it what was deemed to be the best coral spawn in five years."

“The most abundant soft coral to spawn was the Flexible Leather coral (Sinularia flexibilis), also the Finger Leather (Sinularia polydactyla) and Acropora Sp.

“The abundance of spawn seen last night is a positive indication that the reef is renewing. We hope to see similar results from the hard coral as we film the spawning again tonight.”

Mr Cogollos said Moore Reef was ideal because it had a great variety of corals alongside the pontoon which they used as a base to change diving equipment and light the Reef, allowing good footage each year.

“It is an extraordinary time to be out on the Great Barrier Reef as there is still so much we don’t know about the spawning. It was only discovered in 1982 and it happens just once a year,” he said.

Mr Ireland has been filming the coral spawn every year since 1996 and this will be the eighth year he has documented the event at Sunlover’s Moore Reef Marine Base.

He said the special event showed that the Great Barrier Reef was resilient despite the challenges that man and climate change had thrown at the World Heritage Area.

“Every year is different and getting to see the coral spawn can be tricky as different reefs go off at different times so it is easy to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.

“The coral spawns on the outer Great Barrier Reef around two to six nights after the full moon in November when the water is 27-28C, which it has been for the past month.

“The corals release eggs and sperm around the same time to ensure a better chance of fertilisation. If you look at the tide chart four to six nights after the full moon, you will see there is little movement of water between the high and low tides.  

“During this time coral spawn rises slowly to the surface where fertilisation begins and coral larva called planula is developed.

“The planula floats around in the water for several days before settling on the ocean floor where it buds and starts a new coral colony.

“Most reef fish are sleeping during the spawning, hence the eggs are not preyed upon. However, if there is a slick of spawn left in the morning then it is a feeding frenzy for these smaller fish.

“I enjoy filming the coral spawning every year as it gives me hope for the Great Barrier Reef.

“Despite the past bleaching events in 2016-2017, the fact we are seeing corals spawning means the functionality of the ecosystem is working, and while we see this, along with recruitment and regeneration, we can all have some hope about the Reef’s future.

“While we should all have hope that the Reef’s in-built resilience will prevail, the one thing I do stress is that as humans we need to minimise our impacts on the Reef so it can continue its natural cycles.”

Night 2 November 17

Hard and soft corals alongside the Sunlover Moore Reef Marine Base, 54km off Cairns, spawned last night (Sunday, November 17) after a spectacular display by the Great Barrier Reef’s soft corals the night before.

Marine biologists Stuart Ireland from Calypso Productions, Gareth Phillips from Reef Teach, and Pablo Cogollos from Sunlover Reef Cruises were based on the Sunlover Moore Reef Marine Base to capture photos and video of the night-time coral spawning.

Mr Ireland, who has been filming the coral spawn every year since 1996 including the past eight years at Sunlover’s Moore Reef Marine Base, said it was one of the best displays he had seen in years.

“The corals are really looking spectacular since the bleaching events of 2016 and 2017,” he said.

Mr Ireland said the variety of hard and soft corals releasing eggs and sperm into the water was astounding. “There was coral spawn everywhere like a grey haze with beautiful pink bundles going up – it was a magical night,” he said.

Reef educator Mr Phillips added, “Stuart and I have been filming the spawning as a team for five years and this is the best I’ve seen. It’s a testament of how resilient the Great Barrier Reef really is."

“We expect to see more pressures in the future, but the Great Barrier Reef’s size, complexity and huge biodiversity makes it a very strong ecosystem.

“We need to nurture the reef through collaboration between tourism operators such as Sunlover, film makers like Stuart from Calypso, and reef research and educators like myself at Reef Teach.

“The reef has shown us that she is not lying down, she is doing extremely well and fighting for the future.”
Hero and gallery photos by Gabriel Guzman, Calypso Reef Imagery