A Swiss sailboat on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Switzerland and Australia, two countries situated poles apart, combining their efforts and their vision of the environmental challenges to work together through their respective civil society for the good of an endangered world heritage. This is «the adventure within the adventure» that will begin on 28 March 2017 in Brisbane when 33-metre ketch Fleur de Passion, the largest sailboat flying the Swiss flag, will put to sea from the capital of Queensland and head north towards this environment existing on borrowed time as part of The Ocean Mapping Expedition. After presenting the CoralWatch project in a previous news, let’s introduce you to the second of the two programs developed with local partners that will start soon.
This new programme, lasting a month from April to May, will be conducted in partnership with the University of Queensland over a specific area of four hundred kilometres between Townsville and Cooktown. Under the leadership of Dr. Chris Roelfsema of the Remote Sensing Research Centre (RSRC), several teams of volunteers will be coming on board successively to map the coral reefs as part of a larger joint project which, besides the University of Queensland, encompasses several other Australian research institutions, namely the Australian Institute for Marine Science (AIMS), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), James Cook University and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).
«No comprehensive map of all the vast and diverse habitats on the whole Great Barrier Reef currently exists describing geomorphic zonation (e.g. slope, flat, crest) or benthic community composition (e.g. coral, algae, sand)», explains Dr Chris Roelfsema. «These maps would provide valuable information for monitoring and management to support current bleaching surveys, the Crown of Thorns Starfish Eradication Program, marine park zonation design and day-to-day management of the GBR. These types of map have not been produced due to lack of resources and suitable approaches for mapping the 3,000 extensive and mostly submerged shallow reefs of the GBR».
He adds: «Currently, the Remote Sensing Research Centre at the University of Queensland (UQ) is leading efforts, with funding from the GBR Foundation, to create these comprehensive maps through combination of field and satellite image data, and ecological modelling and mapping. A pilot study was used to test the approach in the Capricorn Bunker group during 2016, and methods have now been adapted for application on the 200 reefs in the Cairns to Cooktown Management Region (CCMR). The approaches applied will be the first of their kind to be used over such a large area for so many reefs, and will result not only in benthic and geomorphic maps but also produce detailed water depth and wave climatology data for each shallow reef of the GBR».
For Chris Roelfsema, «Fleur de Passion's journey along the GBR comes at the right time as it provides a unique opportunity to collect additional field data for 15-20 reefs to validate the mapping of the 200 reefs in the CCMR area. Validation data will include georeferenced photo transect surveys, Reef Health and Impact Surveys and Coral Health Chart surveys. This collaboration between the Swiss vessel and RSRC-UQ with the support of the Embassy of Switzerland in Australia is a clear message that there is international interest in conserving the biggest reef globally», he says.
As Australia's lead management agency for the Reef (the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) recently confirmed, «we’re seeing mass coral bleaching on our Reef for the second consecutive year – part of a global event affecting the world’s coral reefs», says Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden.
«This Ocean Mapping Expedition is a wonderful opportunity for the research team to contribute meaningful information to reef managers, helping them gain a more comprehensive picture of how our Reef is faring – not an easy task given the Great Barrier Reef’s immense size spanning more than 2,300 kilometres along the east coast of Australia», she adds.
«The Foundation aims to catalyse solutions to some of the most complex and challenging problems facing the Reef. This project will fill a critical gap by helping to create a comprehensive map of the vast and diverse habitats of the Great Barrier Reef», says Anna Mardsen.
These two programmes specific to the Great Barrier Reef - with the RSRC-UQ and CoralWatch - come in addition to the two others in progress since the start of the expedition on 13 April 2015, and which will also be continued: 20,000 Sounds under the Seas, relating to noise pollution in the oceans, in partnership with the Applied Bioacoustics Laboratory (LAB) of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, and Micromégas, on micro-plastic pollution, in partnership with the Oceaneye Association in Geneva.
To learn more about the RSRC: https://www.rsrc.org.au/
A few days ahead of The Ocean Mapping Expedition’s departure from Brisbane towards the Great Barrier Reef, on Tuesday 28 March 2017, time has come to talk about the two new scientific programmes that will be carried on while sailing on this endangered environment, starting with the one in partnership with CoralWatch. This programme will start as soon as the boat has left the capital of Queensland and reached its first coral reefs on its way North.
On 28-29 March, the expedition will quickly anchor off Moreton Bay Research Station on Stradbroke island, off Brisbane river. And a team of the Australian NGO will instruct Fleur de Passion’s crew so that it can carry on observations from then on and contribute to feeding a huge database on the health of corals. That’s indeed the very ambition of this perfect example of citizen science based at The University of Queensland: helping school, community and tourism groups to understand and support reef management by providing people with accessible information and the opportunity to participate in the collection of scientific data.
The Great Barrier Reef comprises almost 3,000 coral reefs spread over an area of more than 340,000 km² extending 2,300 km along Australia's east coast from Gladstone in the south to the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea. It is the planet's largest living structure, which has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 1981 and is home to thousands of marine animals and organisms. But it is a structure in mortal danger.
Under the influence of the El Niño weather phenomenon and man-made global warming, the Great Barrier Reef has been experiencing ever more frequent bleaching events over recent years, the latest being in 2016, which is still ongoing. When stressed, the corals – which are living creatures or polyps, surrounded by a hard exoskeleton and living in colonies – are expelling the microscopic algae that live in symbiosis with them and give them their colour. If the temperature falls, the polyps can gradually recover from a bleaching episode. But if it does not fall, the algae do not return and the corals die. The entire Great Barrier Reef is therefore affected to varying degrees, though mainly in the north, where 67% of the coral have experienced bleaching, the very ones that will be scrutinized by The Ocean Mapping Expedition as of the end of April; bleaching has been as much as 99% on some reefs.
«The Great Barrier Reef continues to face a barrage of threats», says Prof Justin Marshall from the Sensory Neurobiology Group of the Queensland Brain Institute and project leader at CoralWatch. «As a second major coral bleaching event takes hold, now more than ever the reef requires support by international government, industry, science and the community. Citizen Science is recognized as an effective way to bolster information flow between these sectors».
«CoralWatch is in a prime position to facilitate understanding between these sectors», he adds. «The visit to Australia of the Fleur de Passion and the Fondation Pacifique and our developing cooperative relationship could not come at a better time. CoralWatch is looking forward to working with the crew, visiting scientists and guests aboard the Fleur de Passion to gather information on reef health but also to help the global community preserve reef systems for our children».
«Our core values can be summarized by the old saying: 'Tell me and I will forget, teach me and I will remember, involve me and I will learn.' The Fondation Pacifique clearly has the same values at heart and provides a superb opportunity to reach large areas of reef in Australia and around the world, otherwise hard to reach», says Prof Justin Marshall. Beyond the Great Barrier Reef, these observations will in fact continue wherever the expedition encounters corals along the way, starting with those in South-East Asia from August-September 2017 in the Salomon islands then Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Philippines.
The observations require a colour health chart based on the actual colours of bleached and healthy corals. Each colour square corresponds to a concentration of symbionts contained in the coral tissue. The concentration of symbionts is directly linked to the health of the coral. All you have to do is match the colour of the coral with one of the colours in the coral health monitoring chart. You then record the matching colour codes, along with coral type (species if possible), on the website data sheet.
For more information:
A group of foreign students, mainly from Asia, were among the first to come on board Fleur de Passion on Sunday 19 March 2017, right after the expedition was back again in downtown Brisbane for another session of public events. Standing alone at the helm or sitting in groups at the stern with she CDB skyline as a backdrop, visibly so happy to feel the thrill of adventure in the « high seas », taking selfies or more traditional pictures, for sure they contributed to making The Ocean Mapping Expedition famous in their their home country, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thatand and even Nepal! As well as Slovenia, by the way…
After a short break early this week to finalize some work on board, public visits will resume on Friday 24, Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 from 10am to 6pm. Spread the word!
For The Ocean Mapping Expedition coming from a « landlocked » country like Switzerland, being invited for a presentation at the Queensland Maritime Museum was something quite special. And the team who took part to the event was more than happy to share this unique experience of sailing around the world in the wake of Magellan, on Saturday 18 Mars, while the other crew members had unfortunately to stay on watch on board Fleur de Passion, who had just docked in the center of Brisbane that same day. They were more than happy and a bit proud, considering the size of such a vast « sea locked » country as Australia and its impressive maritime heritage.
Beyond these geographical considerations and from a more human perspective, we could nevertheless feel some kind of astonishment and obvious consideration for this Swiss expedition and the stunning history of Fleur de Passion from the people attending the presentation, mainly Aussies and museum members. And because Switzerland is actually a country much more connected to the high seas then one could think and to celebrate this meeting of minds that day at the museum, a new item will now be features in the exhibition rooms: an official drawing made by Swiss illustrator and cartoonist Tom Tirabosco, offered by the Fondation Pacifique vice-president Samuel Gardaz to QMM Executive Director Ian Jempson.
It’s official: The Ocean Mapping Expedition is now one of the « affiliate events » of The World Science Festival, which will take place from 22 to 26 March 2017 throughout the capital of Queensland. Whoever shows interest for the event and the variety of events proposed to the public will recognize the familiar « skyline » not of the city but of Fleur de Passion on the festival’s website (http://www.worldsciencefestival.com.au/events/affiliate-events/), while the boat is expected to be dock downtownn from this Saturday 18 March until 28 March.
During public visits on board, people will have the opportunity to discover the two scientific programs carried on as part of the missions of the expedition on sound and plastic pollution. They will in particular be able to listen live to the noises from the Brisbane river thanks to the manual hydrophone of the program « 20,000 sounds under the seas » and will have the privileged to be explained what is at stake with so called « sound pollution » of the oceans by French biologist Michel André from the Laboratory of Bioacoustic Applications from the Technical University of Catalunia and partner of the expedition. A unique occasion to get an idea about what marine animals experiment due the development of human activity.
Public visits on Fleur de Passion: Sunday 19, Friday 24, Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 March from 10am to 6pm, every 30 minutes
Venue: Riverlife, Kangaroo Point
By groups of up to 15 people at a time
For more info on The World Science Festival: www.worldsciencefestival.com.au