Sydney Harbour-ing unknown coral treasures

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During bleaching and post bleaching recovery. Photo: Matthew Nitschke

Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney, lead by Ph.D. student Samantha Goyen, are crowd funding to raise money to study the corals of Sydney Harbour…BUT why?

Coral reefs globally are under threat, from climate induced stressors such as coral bleaching and ocean acidification, as well as local pressure such as pollution. This year alone an estimated 30% of the Northern Great Barrier Reef was killed due to warmer than normal waters associated with the El nino event. Consequently, researchers globally are looking for natural refuges for corals – areas where corals can thrive when most other areas are being degraded. Sydney Harbour has the the potential to be one such refuge!

Sydney Harbour is a long way from the Great Barrier Reef but is surprisingly home to scleractinian (hard) corals. Despite the extreme environmental conditions (low temperatures, low light) corals thrive here. Extreme environments may become the ‘norm’ for reefs and act as refuge environments, as coral reefs are at risk from pollution and global warming. Understanding how the Harbour corals are thriving in Sydney could enable us to better predict the future of coral reefs.

This research will inform biodiversity quantification, that is, the microbial communities associated with the corals, that underpins Sydney Harbour’s high conservation value. This project will uncover the Symbiodinium type (symbiotic algae) and the bacteria that are pivotal to coral resilience in extreme environments as the coral holobiont is essential for maintaining coral health and metabolism. How these communities change seasonally and under stress (see lab notes #1) is critical knowledge to understand the survival mechanisms of these hardy corals.

This data will contribute to physiological and ecological models of future coral distribution and function. This is crucial as current modelling is hindered by a lack of knowledge of coral form and function in extremes.

For more information and to get involved please check out the EXPERIMENT page here.

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