The precarious future of the world’s coral reefs has inspired a major international research project to be led by Southern Cross University.
Funded by the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change, scientists from the University’s Marine Ecology Research Centre (MERC) will join other experts from Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia to investigate the impact of ocean acidification and dive tourism on reefs.
Lead investigator Professor Kirsten Benkendorff said the Asia-Pacific project will draw on expertise in coral biology, ocean acidification, marine tourism and management, and environmental economics.
“The combined impact of acidification and dive tourism is placing intense pressure on sensitive reefs and threatens their ecological and economic sustainability,” she said.
“Coral will only become more fragile under acidified conditions and thus increasingly susceptible to damage. That’s why responding to this problem requires a multi-national approach to identify and assess vulnerabilities and then develop the tools for future risk reduction.”
“Dive tourism is an important source of income for South East Asia, but its future depends on the effective management of healthy coral reefs,” said Dr Kay Dimmock, Southern Cross University senior lecturer in tourism.
“We’re aiming to provide practical recommendations to the industry for adaptive management and to help mitigate the impacts of scuba diving and snorkelling on increasingly fragile coral ecosystems.”
MERC Founding Director, Professor Peter Harrison, said coral reefs may be one of the first ecosystems at risk of global collapse.
“This would be an ecological and economic disaster that would put the livelihood of at least 300 million people at risk,” he said.
“Our reefs are magical. To witness the tenuous nature of their existence is an insight into what will occur if action is not taken.”