Borneo’s robust corals: How they cope with the climate change and sedimentation pressures

Curtin University (Australia), Curtin Sarawak (Malaysia), Free Univeristy of Berlin (Germany)
Greece
EcologyEarth Science
$392
Pledged
8%
Funded
$5,415
Goal
3
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  • $392
    pledged
  • 8%
    funded
  • 3
    days left

About This Project

Don’t believe in climate change? Watch the corals. Over half of them have disappeared due to the increased oceanic temperatures. Pollution like sedimentation is affecting the reefs as well. However, some reefs are heroes and thrive under pressure. Our project focuses on such reefs in the Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park in Borneo. We will study the corals responses in different areas and through time to better understand their tolerance against sedimentation and temperature stress.

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What is the context of this research?

The coral reefs in the Miri- Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park (MSCRNP) are located in a hotspot region of strong ocean warming. Fine sediments derived from the Baram river might add pressure on the corals burying them or reducing the important sunlight. This in combination with thermal stress can be lethal.

Surprisingly, offshore surveys have shown that the corals are healthy indicating that they were able to adapt. But data from the more impacted inner coastal reefs are lacking. To understand the overall robustness of the reefs we will study the coral species composition, diseases and their physiology in different areas showing whether they live near their limits. Furthermore, we will assess their responses to past climatic and sedimentation changes by studying their skeletons.

What is the significance of this project?

Although Borneo' s first and largest marine park, MSCRNP has not been adequately studied yet. It is located in one of the most diverse coral reef ecosystems and yearly attracts hundreds of tourists thus supporting the local economy. Over 3,000 fish species live there keeping the fish market as an important financial source. It is paramount to maintain it unaffected. Our study will give insights into the environmental history of the park, how the coral communities have been affected and which of them are more tolerant. We combine past with current data which will aid in understanding how coral communities may change in the future. This will provide some prior warning about potential deterioration of the reef’s health and will indicate the need of improved conservation management.

What are the goals of the project?

First, we intend to reconstruct the past climatic and sedimentation history of MSCRNP from coral core geochemistry. Geochemical measurements will track trace elements in the coral skeleton indicating past thermal and sediment stress of the corals.

Second, with studying the abundance of tolerant species and the current corals health status (diseases, photosynthetic rates, growth) in different areas and through different seasons (summer, winter) we will be able to better understand the stress patterns over the park therefore indicating what regions need better protection. The detailed data will aid in the planning and implementation of improved conservation management and will increase the awareness of the local population and the tourists about these essential ecosystems.

Budget

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The project consists of two field trips. We kick-started the first surveys during September 2016 where we deployed several instruments in the coral reefs of the Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park including sensors for ocean temperature, light availability, nephelometers (turbidity) and sediment traps. We also tagged up to 60 coral colonies to have a time marker for later sampling to determine the growth and calcification changes and bleaching extent of the various coral genera. Our aim is to leave the instruments in the water for a minimum of 6-12 months, depending on funding, to record the seasonal changes in physical parameters among corals health. Next year, we hope to collect the sensors and coral samples to further analyze them in the laboratory. Our crowd funding aims to support the second field trip in May 2017 which is essential to collect the data to obtain best results and understand changes of the reef's health through time.

Endorsed by

It is widely lamented that human impact is diminishing many of our planet's most vibrant ecosystems, and a common perception is that nothing can be done to save them. The proposed research provides a more detailed description of nature's reaction to climate change, by highlighting how some reefs appear to be resilient and survive stressful environmental conditions, which is knowledge applicable to research management. Many things can be done to preserve our environment and resources for future generations. The proposed research is one of them.
Saving the reefs does not just mean making the life of some cute little fish more comfortable, it literally means saving ourselves! This is no joke, nor overstatement: the health of reefs has deep implications for all of us. I taught Ecology and Evolution to Christina during her Masters studies in Berlin, but when it came to coral reefs, I really felt that I was the student and she was the teacher. She really knows her topic and has only one dream in mind: saving the reefs before it is too late. Please help her to do that!
Christina has shown her abilities and commitment to this project during her her first field trip to the coral reefs off Miri. She is working with a very strong team from Perth, Australia and has the support of my research institute at Curtin University Malaysia (international branch campus of Curtin University). The data collected from Christina's project will form a vital part of the information which is being collected to build an understanding of the ecology of the Miri- Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park in an era of global climate change.

Meet the Team

Christina Braoun
Christina Braoun
MSc student

Affiliates

Free University of Berlin
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Jens Zinke
Jens Zinke
Senior Researcher

Affiliates

Freie Universitaet Berlin
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Nicola Browne
Nicola Browne
Dr.

Affiliates

Curtin University
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Team Bio

Together, we are a strong team of highly qualified and enthusiastic marine scientists from Malaysia (Prof. Clem Kuek and his team), Australia (Dr. Nicola Browne; Dr. Mick O'Leary) and Germany (Masters Student Christina Braoun; Dr. Jens Zinke) with a variety of backgrounds from coral reef ecology to geology. Jens has previously worked at Curtin University and met all Australian and Malaysian team members there. Christina joined us recently as Masters Student.

Christina Braoun

The fact of being born in a Greek island where I was spending 8 months a year in the sea snorkeling and diving brought me very close to the marine environment and has therefore somehow imprinted my life path.

During my Biology B.Sc studies in order to gain real experience on studying the marine environment, I conducted a 7 month internship at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR) in Crete (Greece) where I focused on population genetics and biodiversity of marine invertebrates. This Internship gave me the opportunity to live the life of a marine researcher and understand how important it is to preserve our oceans and their biodiversity.

During my Master studies the fascinating coral reefs quickly captured my interest. I took the chance to conduct several presentations on them and then started to realize that behind the image of the colorful and full of life coral reefs, that is spread over the bright media cover, there is the sad truth that they are actually vulnerable and towards death ecosystems. I wrote an essay about tourism management on the Great Barrier Reef, the largest and most complex coral reef ecosystem on Earth, and learned a lot about the engagement of researchers for preserving the reefs all around the world.

Since then, my desire to be part of this international effort of protecting these vulnerable and so important for humanity ecosystems has been anchored in my future plans.

Jens Zinke

For more than 20 years I have dedicated my research to a better understanding of coral reef ecosystems in the tropical oceans and how humans interact and impact those magnificent underwater cities.

During my very first dive in the Indian Ocean in May 1998 I witnessed the largest coral mortality event in response to the Super El Nino of 1997/98. The only colour my eye was catching was white, all corals bleached down to 30m depth at Mayotte Island (Comoros) in the wake of hot ocean temperatures. Ever since I got interested in understanding what has happened and why such events unfold.

My research involves the geochemical study of marine biological (massive corals) and sedimentary archives from the tropical oceans as recorders of environmental and climate change. I read the geochemical composition of the coral skeleton from giant, massive corals that archive year by year any environmental and climatic changes they have experienced during their long life span of more than 200 years.

For most of my career, I have worked on Indian Ocean, Indonesian and Caribbean coral and sediment records. This work is motivated by the need to produce reliable, long-term baseline data of sea surface temperature, ocean currents and the hydrological cycle over the tropical/subtropical oceans and how they shape patterns of biodiversity in our oceans and adjacent coasts. With my research I aim to provide marine coastal managers, environmental protection agencies and governments with the knowledge to make the right decisions to secure a future for our coral reefs and the many millions of people who depend on them for their livelihoods.

Follow my research here:

Read the coral's past

Jens' Research

Nicola Browne

My research focuses on carbonate production, transport and removal in inshore coastal waters. Corals are typically the major reef carbonate producer, hence understanding how corals with respond to both global climate change as well as chronic declines in water quality is critical in determining long-term reef growth and stability. I have worked on coral reefs in Australia, Asia and Africa, largely focusing on inshore turbid zone reefs, and have written a review on the occurrence, composition and growth of inshore reefs of the Great Barrier Reef. More recently, I spent a couple of years in Singapore investigating the impact of ship-wake induced sediment resuspension on near-shore coral reefs which involved an assessment of spatial and temporal variations in water quality in relation to changing coral physiology and growth. I am excited about working on the inshore reefs in Sawarak that have yet to be studied. As well as providing new research findings, the project will feed directly into local management plans that aim to protect and promote these highly diverse reef systems.

Additional Information

Coral geochemistry: Under natural conditions corals incorporate trace elements from their environment but when the environment suddenly changes the concentrations in their skeleton change as well. Increased temperatures lead to changes of Sr/Ca ratios and sediments from river runoff bring metals with them like barium, manganese and rare earth elements. These can be tracked with X-ray, photoluminescence and trace metal measurements.


Coral physiology: Stress parameters such as growth rates, lipid content, zooxanthellae concentration in the coral tissue and chlorophyll a content indicate whether the corals are healthy. If turbidity due to sediments is exceeding a threshold, the corals are not receiving the amount of light they need for their symbionts to photosynthesize properly. Therefore they either starve and die or switch to heterotrophy by eating sediment particles or plankton. Still, high sediment deposition on corals activates mechanisms such as mucus production or ciliar movements of the corals polyps to remove the sediments from the tissue. These mechanisms use a large amount from the energy budget. The corals shift their energy deposition on "fight" mechanisms rather than growth or reproduction. Lipids amounts are reduced.


Jens Zinke drills a core in northern Madagascar.

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