Marine ecotoxicology is the study of the harmful effects of chemical pollutants on marine organisms and ecosystems such as corals, fish, oysters, mangroves and microalgae.
Significant proportions of pollutants from the Great Barrier Reef's catchment reach the in-shore waters of the GBR during the intense flooding events that dominate north Queensland rainfall and river flows. Nitrogen levels in flood plumes are between 10 to 100 times higher than normal marine concentrations.
Australian coastal waters are also at risk from pollution derived from normal ship operations (such as waste disposal, vessel sewage, introduction of marine pests through ballast water and hull fouling, toxic compounds released from anti-fouling paints) and pollution caused by shipping accidents (such as vessel groundings and oil spills).
Apart from directly killing marine organisms, pollutants have the potential to cause sub-lethal effects such as disrupting symbioses and interfering with chemical cues responsible for key biological processes, including reproduction and recruitment.
AIMS research is focused on developing effective bioindicators for measuring and monitoring sub-lethal stress in tropical marine organisms, including coral, microbial communities and estuarine plants and animals. The results are then compared with data from the AIMS water quality monitoring program to help the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and regulators (e.g. APVMA ) to identify potential threats to tropical marine species and habitats.
AIMS has aquaria facilities that allow precise dosing of organisms such as corals or fish with contaminants like herbicides and insecticides. This allows staff to examine the effects on all life history stages of corals and other sensitive marine organisms in the laboratory without risking damage to the natural ecosystem.
Waypoint story: Pesticides compound climate risk to reef