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The high-tech portable lab helping coral fight climate change

AIMS senior research scientist Line Bay said the mobile lab made the logistical challenge of coral research that much easier, and enabled faster and more accurate results.

“We’re finding that it works incredibly well, it gives us a new way of testing susceptibility and tolerance of corals out there on the reef,” Dr Bay said.

The focus of the research using the mobile lab has been to “stress test” various coral species to see which ones react best to sudden and prolonged changes in temperature, as part of researchers efforts to help coral reefs adapt to climate change.

Researchers on the RV Solander examine coral samples being tested in the mobile lab

Researchers on the RV Solander examine coral samples being tested in the mobile labCredit:James Gilmour

AIMS coral ecologist James Gilmour said those corals with high heat stress tolerance could be used as stocks to help rebuild bleached and damaged portions of reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef.

“We are testing the theory that corals naturally exposed to higher and more variable temperatures on the reef use their genes to cope with extreme water temperatures during times of coral bleaching,” Dr Gilmour said.

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“This Seasim-in-a-box technology can be taken to reefs around Australia to test different corals’ capacity to withstand future climate conditions to deliver cutting-edge information needed to support conventional and new management actions into the future.”

The early results from the mobile lab have proven such a success that the AIMS team has already created even smaller versions which can be used on some of their other research vessels.

“We’ve got a team leaving for the Coral Sea in just a few days and they’ve got a miniature version of this same system to take with them,” Dr Bay said.

“The beauty of this system, is we’re doing the same thing across different oceans, the same fitness test, which will allow us to probe much deeper into the genetic basis of heat tolerance in corals.”

Dr Bay said she wished they didn’t have to conduct such timely research on coral resilience, but the mobile lab was the best way to achieve results quickly.

“It’s important to point out that the best thing we can do to save our reef into the future is to act on climate change, and ensure ocean waters do not continue to warm,” she said.

“But this research will give us new management tools to help corals navigate what is looking like a quite challenging future.”

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