Minister Garrett announces multimillion - dollar boost to CReefs


29 September 2009

An influx of resources worth a total of $2.7 million to support the ambitious CReefs project that is systematically surveying life on Australian reefs is being announced today at AIMS by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts the Hon Peter Garrett MP.

The Australian Biological Resources Survey (ABRS) and CReefs, with support from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, have provided funding to five scientists from Australian museums and other research organisations to work with the AIMS-led CReefs project that is bringing marine life new to science to the surface. The grants, worth collectively $1.2 million over three years, are joined with cash and in-kind contributions from the scientists' host institutions to make a total contribution of $2.7 million to finding new reef life.

CReefs is an international multi-agency collaboration, led by AIMS, the Smithsonian Institution and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. CReefs Australia is funded through a deal brokered by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation with BHP Billiton providing $3.4 million to the project over four years. Many hundreds of species thought to be new to science have already been discovered on CReefs expeditions to Lizard and Heron Islands on the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia.

The wealth of marine science knowledge turning up on well-visited reefs thanks to the Australian node of the CReefs project has amazed even its leader, AIMS Principal Research Scientist Dr Julian Caley, and has provided solid evidence that our knowledge of the marine world remains very incomplete. The riches of the oceans are myriad and the scientific challenges unparalleled.

Dr Caley and AIMS CEO Dr Ian Poiner have welcomed the new funding from the ABRS, which will enable some of those many challenges to be addressed by the grantees, Dr Fred Gurgel from the University of Adelaide, Dr Niel Bruce from the Queensland Museum, Dr John Hooper from the Queensland Museum, Dr Pat Hutchings from the Australian Museum and Dr Robert Adlard from the Queensland Museum.

The collaboration between CReefs and ABRS and the funding of these awards will provide a leap forward for Australian taxonomy, giving renewed impetus to this foundational work, creating new Australian marine science knowledge and powering future research by building new capacity in this vital area.

"The funding of the awards is an excellent example of co-investment as a winning formula for scientific research," Dr Poiner said. "The ability to combine the resources and strengths of our organisations will make possible new science and new research capacity that was not possible when operating singly."

"Since it's estimated that well over 90 per cent of reef life is unknown to science, we have a lot more to find and a lot more exploring to do," Dr Caley said. "The Great Barrier Reef is an irreplaceable natural asset worth about $6 billion annually to Australia, so knowing more about it will benefit the whole nation."

The discipline of taxonomy is one of the big winners from today's announcement. Taxonomists construct an ordered framework for the immense diversity of living things, giving names and classifications to reflect the similarities within groups and their differences from other groups. This is building-block science, crucial to fundamental understandings of the Earth's diversity of life. CReefs scientists from museums and universities are engaged in finding a place for their discoveries in the tree of life, adding to our knowledge of biodiversity.

The Australian node of CReefs has already exceeded expectations since the first expedition in March 2008. The team has now completed five expeditions and is looking forward to returning to Heron Island in November this year following fruitful return visits to Lizard Island and Ningaloo Reef earlier this year.

All the award recipients will be going to Heron, most for repeat visits. However one award recipient, Dr Robert Adlard, is going for the first time to begin work funded by the new research grant on reef fish parasites.

CReefs is one of 17 programs of the Census of Marine Life (CoML). Started in 2000, CoML is an international science research program uniting thousands of researchers worldwide to assess and explain the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life – past, present and future – by 2010. CoML is supported by private sources and government agencies the world over.

For more information, go to: www.comlsecretariat.org/Dev2Go.web?id=302846‘rnd=27348

For further information, please contact:

Dr Ian Poiner, CEO AIMS and Chair CoML International Scientific Steering Committee, 07 4753 4490, i.poiner@aims.gov.au

Dr Julian Caley, CReefs leader, AIMS , 07 4753 4148, 0439 472 148, j.caley@aims.gov.au

Ms Wendy Ellery, AIMS media liaison, 07 4753 4409, 0418 729 265 ,w.ellery@aims.gov.au

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