Crown of thorns starfish, COTS
Crown of thorns starfish, COTS

Australia today opened the National Sea Simulator to tackle ocean issues. This research aquarium is aiming to discover:

  • How well will the Great Barrier Reef adapt to a changing climate and more acidic oceans?
  • Why do crown-of-thorns starfish populations periodically boom?
  • Can we develop technologies to control crown-of thorns and give the Reef time to adapt to a changing climate?
  • Is coral bleaching simply a reaction to hot oceans or is something more complex happening?
  • Whether bacteria and viruses will become dominant as climate change takes hold?

The $35 million SeaSim gets closer to replicating the conditions of the open ocean, a reef lagoon or flooding rivers than any other facility in the world.

“It’s awesome,” says Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) researcher Mike Hall. “When we started planning SeaSim we visited over 40 marine aquariums around the world to identify key attributes of the perfect research facility. What we’ve built takes the best in the world and adds new technologies and an incredible level of automation and control.”

“In each tank we can automatically control many parameters – from water temperature to ocean acidification to salinity to lighting to nutrients and water quality etc.”

“SeaSim will allow marine scientists the world over to test observations, assumptions and models. It will allow the development of technologies to assist aquaculture and fisheries management.”

“Fighting the crown-of-thorns starfish is one of the highest priorities for SeaSim,” says John Gunn, the AIMS CEO. “We need to understand why starfish populations periodically boom leading to massive reef destruction. Is it due to nutrients in flood waters or are more complex factors at play?”

“Crown-of-thorns talk to each other with chemicals – they gather in groups and they ‘run away’ when predators such as the Giant Triton move in to feed on them. Could we use those chemical signals to trick starfish into congregating or dispersing – making physical removal easier? We hope to answer these and many other questions about the starfish with the help of SeaSim,”

SeaSim brings together a reliable, consistent supply of high quality seawater with the technology to enable precise control over environmental factors like temperature, light, acidity, salinity, sedimentation and contaminants. It integrates technology developed in the industrial process sector—-used to control and manipulate seawater and ambient conditions—-with aquarium technologies of plant and animal husbandry.

The Sea Simulator was opened by Senator Kim Carr who said the Government had funded the SeaSim because it was essential for Australia to better understand the impact of events such as ocean warming and acidification, outbreaks of natural predators such as the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish and pollution.

Further Reading:
About SeaSim, the National Sea Simulator