July 26th 2008
Island scientists' work informs PM
A number of Magnetic Island residents are also scientists at the forefront of research into the impacts of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef and, today, one of them, Dr Katharina Fabricius, was involved in a briefing of the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd and Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, during a visit the politicians and scientists made to the Low Isles off Port Douglas.
Ms Sheriden Morris, CEO of the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, who conducted the tour for the Prime Minister, told Magnetic Times, "While it is easy to be overwhelmed by the array of environmental and economic problems that are being caused by climate change, it's important to remember that there are things we can do to mitigate or avoid these risks."
"Right now we're developing an innovative tool that is going to be critical in our fight to save the Great Barrier Reef - the Reef Atlas," she said.
Katharina Fabricius, a Principal Research Scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), who, along with fellow Magnetic Islanders, Dr Glenn De'ath and spatial analyst Stuart Kininmonth, is involved in a soon-to-be released web-based atlas of the reef, told Magnetic Times, "Sheriden had three hours to brief the Prime Minister who then gave a twenty minute speech in the Council Chamber that showed he really got the message. It went really well."
The Prime Minister and Climate Change Minister were shown a trial version of the Reef Atlas which is funded from the Australian Government's $40 million Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility (MTSRF) program. The MTSRF is working collaboratively with scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) on the development of the Reef Atlas.
Katharina Fabricius said, "Huge amounts of data have been collected and what we are trying to do is make the information from these data accessible to all interested, and to use them for models which will give us a better understanding of the links between reef biodiversity and climate change."
Dr Fabricius described the serious effects of climate change on the reef which has prompted the making of the Atlas. "Climate change is already evident on the reef in two forms. One is water temperature which, from records which go back to the 1870s, shows that the ocean's water temperature has increased by 0.7 degrees C in the last hundred years. Corals have a low tolerance to only minor increases in water temperature, and hot water has led to the mass bleachings that have begun to happen in the last twenty years."
"Of even greater concern is ocean acidification. The world's oceans absorb about half of the atmosphere's CO2. With increased CO2 in the sea water it becomes more acidic. Models predict that the pH (the measure of acidity and alkalinity) has already declined by 0.1 units which means that shellfish, crustaceans, corals and other marine creatures which utilise the carbonate in the water are less able to calcify."
According to AIMS CEO Dr Ian Poiner, the Reef Atlas will be a one-stop shop on the web for data, information and analyses on contemporary environmental issues facing the Great Barrier Reef and its catchments.
"As threats from climate change, poor water quality and intensifying human use increase, the Reef Atlas will help assess their likely impacts and ways to mitigate them, ensuring that managing and conserving this invaluable natural asset is knowledge-based," Dr Poiner said.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt has welcomed the initiative as a useful tool for reef managers. "The Reef Atlas will ensure the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is well placed to target management decisions to ensure the future health of the Reef," he said.
The Reef Atlas brings together decades of research on the Great Barrier Reef on reef and seafloor biodiversity, the abundance of corals, algae, fish and seagrasses, and water quality and sea temperature. As well as showing how reefs change over time, the Reef Atlas will also allow researchers to model likely future scenarios. It will assess how quickly reefs recover from disturbances such as coral bleaching and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, and what factors contribute to recovery.
Dr Fabricius said, "Glenn De'ath (also a Principal Research Scientist at AIMS specalising in statistical and ecological modelling) is the real hero of the atlas. It is his statistical skills that have been the basis of the science it represents."
According to AIMS sources, most important from a management viewpoint, the Reef Atlas will predict which areas are the most resilient or vulnerable, and determine the main drivers of change. The Atlas will continually evolve and its contents will be regularly updated as new information and improved tools become available.
When the Atlas goes live late in 2008, it will be able to answer questions such as: