Scientists trying to ensure the long-term survival of Australia's Great Barrier Reef have a new tool at their disposal - a multi-million dollar reef simulator that will allow them recreate reef conditons in a controlled setting.
TOWNSVILLE, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA(AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION) - The $A35 million (($US32 million) National Sea Simulator is designed to replicate ocean conditions with a particular focus on those that effect the delicate ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef.Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) CEO John Gunn says it will be a boon to marine scientists and ultimately, the endangered reef itself.
"It allows groups of scientists from AIMS, from universities such as James Cook and all around the world to come together to study some of the big questions," he said.
Those big questions include - How well will the Great Barrier Reef adapt to a changing climate and more acidic oceans? Why do populations of the destructive Crown of Thorns starfish periodically boom, and can scientists develop technologies to control them?
They'll also be able to study the phenomenon of coral bleaching and will be conducting experiments to see if corals can be pursuaded to spawn out of season to mitigate the impact of warmer temperatures.
AIMS Research Director Jamie Oliver says the simulator will bring sharp focus to real world problems in a controllable environment.
"Here we can keep corals alive and healthy for years. That allows us to look at the long-term effects of a number of stressers on the reef in an experimental setting," he said
One area where Oliver believes the simulator could make a difference is in controlling the infamously destructive Crown of Thorns starfish, a naturally occuring predator whose numbers periodically boom, causing massive destruction of coral ecosystems.
Olivier says the simulator will allow scientists to examine methods of controlling the starfish.
"We could do that through, for instance, seeing whether there are special chemicals called pheromones, which may attract Crown of Thorns starfish together. If we can attract them together we may be able to use that as a way of putting out baited traps," he said.
Each tank within the facility can be automatically controlled to simulate water temperature, acidification, lighting, salinity and chemical content, not only in oceans, but also rivers and lagoons.
CEO Gunn says the facility, which is funded mailny by the Federal govenment, "will transform our capacity to provide the science that government, industry, and the community need to make informed decisions about how we use and protect the oceans."