Research Themes

AIMS researcher tends acidification experiment

AIMS is using SeaSim for research under four themes:

  • future climate
  • marine diseases and pests
  • sediment and pollution
  • core capacities.

Future climate

Climate change is driving changes in our oceans, tipping balances and placing the future of coral reef ecosystems in doubt. Warming waters and ocean acidification are primary areas of concern for future marine ecosystems under a rapidly changing climate.

Forecasting ecosystem impacts is currently fraught with uncertainty because each animal and plant species possesses a different tolerance to changing climate conditions. Environmental variables on coral reefs change daily and seasonally, making it hard to detect the effects of gradual changes in climate in a natural setting. 

A whole-of-ecosystem understanding requires experiments with numerous species, at different life history stages and under different environmental scenarios.

With its sophisticated controls systems and instrumentation, SeaSim can house multiple species for long durations, while at the same time manipulating variables such as temperature and pH in a realistic manner.

Marine diseases and pests

Marine diseases and pests are increasingly recognised as environmental and economic threats. Biosecure experimentation facilities are required in order to investigate environmental factors contributing to diseases and pathogens of marine organisms, as well as outbreaks of marine pest species.

Such research will identify vulnerabilities exhibited by the diseases and pests at different life history stages, which provide options for intervention.

In Australia, one of the worst marine pests is the crown-of-thorns starfish. Outbreaks of the starfish were one of the major causes of the loss of almost half of the live coral cover across the Great Barrier Reef from 1985 to 2012.

Testing potential management options requires a secure supply of starfish and facilities for their reproduction. Maintaining the starfish population in the aquarium has the secondary benefit of providing knowledge about their life cycle and potential vulnerabilities, which may be exploited in management strategies.

The lack of high-level experimental facilities has previously stymied questions about their early life history and the factors that influence their survival and hence likelihood of outbreaks.

SeaSim will provide the crucial infrastructure that will help answer these questions and reduce the considerable impact of crown-of-thorns starfish.

Sediment and pollution

Our coastal seas are experiencing increased long- and short-term impacts from sediment generated during dredging operations and by land-use practices. Farming, urbanisation and industry are also injecting chemicals into the coastal waters.

We only have information a few species and life stages on the impacts of these stress factors, and we know even less about their ability to recover.

With its complex dosing systems, well-defined water movement, and sophisticated sensors, SeaSim provides the specialised facilities required to study the impacts of increased sediment and chemical loads.

Core capacities

Model organisms and collections 

Model organisms are species that help us answer fundamental questions about biology, and they are widely used in biomedical research and food production. However, there are currently very few model marine organisms because they are difficult to culture and rear. 

SeaSim will enable long-term, multi-generational studies of corals and their ability to adapt to climate change. SeaSim will also let scientists develop new methods to maintain marine organisms, such as crown-of-thorns starfish and seagrasses, in sufficient number and health for use in research.

Innovative seawater technologies 

Realistic experimentation on marine plants and animals requires replication of natural environmental factors, such as water motion, and the exposure to stressors that fluctuate as they do in nature.

SeaSim research will develop technologies and procedures to replicate sunlight (spectrum and intensity), manipulate water conditions (temperature, pH/pCO2, nutrients, salinity) and natural water movement (flow and turbulence).