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Research Stay at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), October 2019 - February 2020

PhD student Lisa Röpke and ISATEC Master student David Brefeld spent four months of collaborative research work at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, Australia. AIMS, Australia’s tropical marine research agency, has been investigating marine ecosystems and processes across Australia’s tropical north since 1972.

Lisa got invited to conduct her research investigating the use of antifoulants to improve juvenile coral growth and survival as part of the AIMS Reef Restoration Program.

The time at AIMS was very intense, but totally worth all the sweat and organization prior to and during the period. Before Lisa actually saw the facilities at AIMS, she had already imagined pictures from stories and photos. Now, being back in Germany, she can confidently say that AIMS and the National Sea Simulator (SeaSim) truly are a playground for coral reef scientists. The $35 million SeaSim located at the headquarters of AIMS in Townsville, is one of Australia’s major marine research facilities, designed to enable sophisticated experiments on marine organisms under simulated environmental conditions. This place proved to be a highly developed technological natural seawater running facility with millions of options to set up experiments under a diverse range of conditions. Lisa felt totally overwhelmed and happy at the same time because she knew that this was the place she had always dreamed of working in. Since AIMS is a governmental agency, safety at work was important at all times and before any project related work started, many laboratory inductions needed to be completed.  However, after Lisa & David had made it through the “administration jungle”, the planned experiments were discussed together with the collaborating scientist and ecotoxicology expert Dr. Andrew Negri and other local scientists at AIMS, Dr. Carly J. Randall and Dr. Florita Flores.

Prior to the coral spawning in November, coral colonies from the Palms and Keppel islands in the Great Barrier Reef were brought to the marine aquaria facilities in the SeaSim with the AIMS research vessel. The coral colonies stayed in the seawater tanks for a couple of nights until three nights after full moon different colonies of the same species Acropora millepora spawned and released their gametes into white nally bins. The positively buoyant gamete bundles were pipetted into smaller containers and transferred to another aquaria room for separation and washing of sperm and eggs. Afterwards, cross-fertilization of different colonies was processed in bigger containers and after a few hours only, the fertilized eggs had developed into fully functional and actively swimming coral larvae. The larvae were transferred into rearing tanks with a filtered seawater volume of 400 L each. After this night shift, the larvae tanks were checked almost every hour in order to keep the larvae healthy for all scientists who had planned to use them in their experiments. This procedure kept going for 2 weeks after spawning.

When the larvae were a couple of days old, Lisa and David started to set up some settlement assays with Crustose Coralline Algae (CCA) chips and what researchers at AIMS nicely call “fairy dust”. It basically means small shredded CCA powder, which is attractive for coral larvae and induces settlement behavior. Later on, also CCA extract was used to induce coral larvae settlement behavior. The settlement trials were tested on different surfaces, including Lisa’s specific anti-biofouling coated surfaces. Also, larvae were used for swimming behavior testings and biofilm developments on the coated surfaces were monitored fortnightly with a very handy camera trolley with a full frame camera built by technicians and engineers in the workshop at AIMS, specifically adapted to the needs of coral scientists.

All in all, this research stay proved to be more than fruitful from different points of view. Lisa and David learned to work in a very sophisticated scientific environment with many experienced and well-known scientists in coral reef ecology & restoration. Moreover, the collaborating researchers have pronounced their satisfaction with this collaboration and interest in future collaborations and knowledge exchange with Lisa and the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in Bremen. First insights into the work of this collaboration will be shared at the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Bremen this year and the Australian researchers will be in Bremen to join interesting conversations about past, present and future scientific investigations.