AIMS' research activities are primarily focused on Australia's tropical marine environments from the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) on the east coast to Shark Bay and the Abrolhos Islands in in the west. Field activities are supported by laboratory and administrative facilities located at Townsville, Darwin and Perth.
AIMS operates specialised instruments for analysing major elements, trace elements and nutrients in marine-related samples, including seawater, marine sediment and mangroves. Analysis often requires developing specific methods and/or refinement of existing methodologies and provides critical data for researchers studying issues like the fate of nutrients and sediments entering the marine environment.
Biomolecular analysis facility
This facility is used to determine the molecular structure of biologically interesting compounds isolated from marine organisms. It has two nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers (300MHz and 600MHz), two liquid chromatography systems each coupled to an electrospray ionisation mass spectrometer (LCMS) and one of the few Fourier transform mass spectrometers (FTMS) in the country. The facility can separate and analyse many compounds from a single organism in one step. This is unique in Australia and a significant scientific asset for tropical marine science.
The AIMS Bioresources Library is a national repository of sustainably acquired marine bioresources, which are curated and made available for biodiscovery research and screening campaigns aimed at discovery of new product candidates. The Bioresources Library ensures that all use of samples is compliant with the Convention on Biological Diversity and related Australian domestic legal requirements, including obligations for benefit sharing. The Bioresources Library is constantly expanding through links to biodiversity characterisation and documentation collection programs. It currently contains samples from almost 20,000 organisms, including extracts, fractions and whole samples of both macro-and micro-organisms.
Controlled environment aquaria
This facility allows scientists to conduct experiments in seawater aquaria with complete control over water quality, light, temperature and salinity. High quality seawater is pumped from the ocean to the facility and vigorously processed until sterile and particulate free. These specialised aquaria are used for experiments requiring critical control in marine physiology, microbiology, marine diseases and larval rearing.
Coral core collection
AIMS uses specialised coring equipment for collecting coral cores from massive colonies and preparing high-quality slices sawn from the cores. The unique densitometer/luminometer (constructed in the AIMS workshop) allows non-destructive measurement of coral skeletal density and coral skeletal luminescence. These allow measurement of coral density banding, from which are derived coral growth rates (extension, density and calcification) and coral luminescent lines (recording the occurrence and intensity of freshwater at coral reefs), providing environmental and climatic histories from the past several centuries.
The data centre archives AIMS' data holdings and develops tools to support the capture, description and transfer of data. It uses high level statistical analysis, GIS visualisation, database management and computing programming skills to deliver AIMS research results to all users of marine science data.
Diving operations are an important part of AIMS research. Scuba diving is predominantly used to allow direct observation, equipment deployment and sampling in shallow (less than 20 metres) waters. Scuba is supplemented by snorkel diving and surface supply diving. Conducting more than 3,000 scuba dives each year, AIMS ensures it maintains safe procedures by implementing strict diving regulations.
The marine environment poses significant hurdles for sampling equipment. The AIMS engineering facility supports researchers by building specialised instruments for collecting information about the marine environment. Working closely with researchers, the workshop facility applies capabilities in electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, metal fabrication and carpentry to design, prototype and construct specialised equipment such as underwater sensors, data loggers, sediment traps, weather towers coral corers and many other devices.
Great Barrier Reef Ocean Observing System (GBROOS) GBROOS
is the world's first reef-based IP data network, giving researchers an unprecedented range of data on reef conditions and enabling them to better track changes and impacts. This network is being co-ordinated by AIMS and is a node of the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS)
, a nationwide collaborative program designed to observe the oceans around Australia, including coastal zones and the ‘bluewater' open oceans.
The AIMS library
is one of the largest specialist marine science libraries in Australia. Our collections include around 12,000 books, 3,500 journal titles (print and online), maps, charts, aerial photographs, CD-ROMs, audio-visual materials and remote access online databases. The Institute's library also houses the famous Sir Maurice Yonge collection which includes 43 volumes documenting the voyage of the HMS Challenger (1873-76), one of the world's first major oceanographic voyages. In addition, the library has a rare collection of scientific reports from the Great Barrier Reef (1928-1929) and Siboga expeditions.
Located at the AIMS Townsville headquarters, the National Sea Simulator
is a cutting-edge experimental aquarium facility with capabilities to mimic and control control complex combinations of environmental variables (light, temperature, sedimentation, contaminants, CO2, etc., ) to accurately simulate both naturally occurring and human influenced water conditions.
Visit the National Sea Simulator webpage
AIMS has an extensive range of low and high magnification microscopes equipped with brightfield, fluorescent, phase contrast and Normarski optics. These microscopes are fitted with sophisticated digital imaging software for 2D and 3D analysis. Access to laser scanning confocal microscopes and a range of electron microscopy technologies for high magnification, high resolution and elemental analysis is provided through association with James Cook University's Advanced Analytical Centre (Townsville) and the University of Queensland Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis (Brisbane).
Oceanographic data underpin much of the Institute's environmental research. AIMS has state-of-the-art oceanographic instruments including current meters, tide and wave gauges, bio-optical sensors, portable weather stations, water sampling devices and conductivity, temperature and depth profilers. The Oceanographic Instrument Pool is used in a wide range of tropical marine environments such as rivers, estuaries, coral reefs, and shelf and slope waters to 300 metres depth.
AIMS provides on-site accommodation to visiting researchers, guests and staff running overnight experiments. Accommodation includes six self-contained houses (sleep up to six) and six motel-style units (sleep up to two).
Organic geochemistry laboratory
The organic geochemistry lab allows researchers to analyse marine sediments and other samples for trace petroleum and chlorinated hydrocarbon analysis as well as natural biomarker compounds in the lipid fractions. The lab houses a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer used for trace analysis of hydrocarbons, and other derivatised fractions of lipids such as fatty acids and sterols. There is also a gas chromatograph with electron capture and flame ionisation detectors. Another gas chromatograph contains a reduction catalyst before the flame ionization detector for analysis of light hydrocarbons and other gases such as CO and CO2.
The versatile outdoor aquaria provide researchers with high quality flow-through seawater for organisms such as corals, sponges and fish. The facility can be used to maintain recently collected samples or can be configured for dosing or temperature experiments on a large scale. Light conditions, temperature and seawater filtration can all be independently controlled to provide conditions that closely mimic those on the reef.
As well as all the high-tech equipment of the usual molecular biology laboratory, this lab is designated as 'Physical Containment, Level 2' so it has the design features and equipment required for the use of slightly hazardous microorganisms under conditions that prevent their release into the environment. The laboratory is used for projects that include the study of diseases of marine organisms (e.g. corals, sponges and prawns), studies of genetic variation and relatedness among marine organisms (e.g. finding DNA markers that sort out the different strains of zooxanthellae in corals, or the different species of bacteria that live in sponges) and testing chemicals isolated from marine organisms to see whether they may be useful as antibiotics, herbicides, anti-cancer drugs, etc.
AIMS scientists use low level radioactive materials (radioisotopes) to tag small particles, chemicals and even individual molecules in the marine environment that are too small to study using other tools. These tags help scientists understand issues from specific molecular interactions to the productivity of entire marine ecosystems from microscopic bacteria to large corals. All staff working with radioactive materials are trained to handle these materials safely and use is strictly controlled by regulations and standards. Specialised x-ray equipment is used to analyse core samples collected from corals. Using x-ray technology, scientists can measure distinct bands in the coral cores which relate to historical climate and environmental changes such as flood and drought.
A satellite receiving station at AIMS is part of a national network that receives sea surface temperature and ocean colour data from NOAA and NASA satellites. AIMS uses the information for its own studies of ocean production and climate change as well as contributing data to national and international archives. Satellite images help AIMS scientists to predict where coral bleaching events will occur. Images also help us detect turbidity plumes from rivers, algal blooms, upwelling events and ocean currents.
The AIMS research fleet provides access to all of Australia's tropical marine environments. Two large purpose-built ships, the RV Cape Ferguson
, and the RV Solander
and a number of smaller vessels take researchers to the diverse habitats that make up our tropical marine environment. AIMS' major vessels are specially equipped with winches, on-board laboratories, flow-through aquaria and computing facilities allowing scientists to sample the physical and biological characteristics of various habitats and conduct experiments at sea. Diving operations from the major vessels are supported by inflatable tenders and on-board compressors to provide, for example, NITROX capability.
Tropical aquaculture facility
The AIMS aquaculture facility provides researchers with direct access to high quality, ultrafiltered, sterile seawater. It includes controlled environment rooms for the maturation of brood stock and specialised tanks for the high density rearing of tropical crustaceans, especially larval prawns and lobsters. Live foods (microalgae and artemia) and formulated feeds are produced on-site in specially designed facilities. These seawater facilities are supported by modern biotechnology laboratories that help us to develop critical hatchery technologies for the improved production of aquaculture species.
AIMS' weather stations have been providing real-time observations of wind, temperature and light levels from parts of the GBR since 1987. These data are used by local weather reporters, tourism operators, commercial and recreational fishers and marine management agencies. By monitoring ocean conditions, our scientists can better understand, explain and predict the occurrence of ecological processes linked to weather and climate change. For example, sea water temperatures measured at over 45 reef locations are used to predict coral bleaching events.