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Taking AIMS at Reefs

Taking AIMS at Reefs

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Saturday, October 15, 2016/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, marine life, sustainability, environment, adventure , climate change

         Coral Reef Research, Western Australia (credit: Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, Queensland)

Along with montane cloud forests, marine reefs are the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. Covering less than 1% of ocean environments, these living structures contain 25% of all marine life; are the nurseries for a quarter of the world's seafood including commercial fish; protect coastlines from storms; and provide billions of dollars in revenues from tourism. Considering their importance, our Journal has covered issues relating to coral reefs from their conservation and restoration to changes due to increasing ocean temperatures and acidification caused by climate change.

The Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) has been an active 'center of excellence' for research on reefs and the critical environmental issue of coral bleaching. Often the Institute's projects involve collaboration with other research centers and public organizations. A new large-scale coral survey has been initiated with California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who provide remote-sensing airborne and satellite monitoring technology for 'big data' gathering that will cover the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. AIMS undertakes such projects to produce information that will offer new strategies for understanding, managing, and sustaining reef ecosystems around Australia and elsewhere. Ongoing projects include:

understanding cummulative impact from environmental "stressors" like agricultual runoff and siltation, overfishing, and water chemistry; which marine species are threatened or endangered and in need of protection; how resilient reefs will be from coral bleaching events and rising ocean acidity; ecological restoration of reefs; to novel management for control of invasive species that attack and destroy the living corals themselves.

An invasive starfish, the Crown of Thorns, is one particularly "bad actor" and has destroyed entire sections of remote reefs in Australia. Reef managment requires active efforts to eliminate the pest and multiple approaches are being attempted from manual hand-collecting the starfish to injecting them individually with poison. A unique solution may include the release of a predatory marine snail, the giant triton. The snail native to the Pacific is particulaly fond of eating the invasive starfish which can occur in outbreak proportions on the Great Barrier Reef. Despite its sharp spines that contain a toxic chemical coating, tritons are highly effective as Crown of Thorn hunters. A video was produced by AIMS researchers of a triton effectively eliminating a starfish:

Reef ecosystems are an essential part of the marine world and their myriad of benefits must be sustained. Oranizations like AIMS and many others working in coral environnments need as much support as they can receive. Locate an exciting and worthwhile marine center and become involved with a reef program somewhere yourself. 



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