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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Coral vulnerability assessment to temperature stress (bleaching) and ocean acidification in the Spermonde Archipelago: conservation strategies for climate resilience

PI: Nita Rukminasari (, Hasanuddin University, Indonesia
U.S. Partner: Brian Hopkinson, University of Georgia
Project Dates: December 2015 - November 2018

Project Overview

The focus of this project is categorization of coral species based on their ability to withstand stress events. The research to be carried out will provide science-based metrics and approaches that will be key in planning and managing future marine protected areas designed to protect reef biodiversity, reef productivity, and the socioeconomic welfare of communities depending on them. In the Spermonde Archipelago, a group of small islands off the west coast of South Sulawesi, coral reefs are invaluable resources both as a food source and as island protection. Ocean temperatures in the region have been increasing over the last decade, causing increased coral bleaching and losses of entire coral colonies in the Spermonde Archipelago, a trend that is predicted to continue with climate change. Increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in seawater cause ocean acidification that further stresses corals and the ecosystem. The Spermonde Archipelago is part of Coral Triangle region, which is the center of global coral reef diversity and known as the “Amazon of the seas.” However, the region is dramatically understudied given the attention it merits, and coral bleaching and the impact of increasing carbon dioxide on coral are poorly documented.

This research team will conduct field research at six islands in the Spermonde Archipelago to identify thermal- and acidity-tolerant coral species, map their distribution, and characterize habitats that through prevalent environmental conditions buffer coral species from the impact of thermal anomalies (including depth, temperature regimes, light attenuation, geomorphology, and prevailing currents). They will also conduct laboratory experiments to exam coral symbiotic zooxanthellae clades and determine their resistance to heat and acid stress. Existing management strategies will be reevaluated in light of this detailed physiological information and spatial mapping so that tolerance and environmental refuges may be incorporated into new Marine Protected Area (MPA) management strategies within the Spermonde Archipelago.

The project should lead to better management of coral reef ecosystems facing climate change by providing comprehensive information about the ecology and physiological characteristics of corals in the Spermonde Archipelago. It will also contribute to the management of Coral Triangle Marine Protected Areas, with a focus on managing for climate change resilience. The development of sustainable alternative livelihoods, namely marine fish aquaculture, is a key to reducing destructive fishing practices. Through educational and outreach in local communities, Dr. Rukminasari and her colleagues on the project aim to produce a long-term impact on sustainable human use of coral reef resources in the region. To this end, they will develop an easy-to-use monitoring protocol for assessing coral reef conditions and water quality changes that can be used by non-scientists to monitor the condition of their coral reef. 
4-012 Reef Inspection and Data Gathering4-012 Indonesia PEER team4-012_Pic1
  Photos courtesy of Prof. Nita Rukminasari.

Summary of Recent Activities

Dr. Rukminasari and her group carried out only one activity on their PEER project during April – June 2018, namely their ongoing ocean acidification experiment. This required the team to set up a CO2 system and several light- and filter-equipped aquariums and fill them with transplanted coral samples collected from several sites around Indonesia. This experiment began in November 2017 and finished by the end of June 2018.

On May 8, 2018, the PI Dr. Rukminasari gave an oral presentation at the Marine Science and Fisheries Symposium organized in Makassar by the Faculty of Marine Science and Fisheries of Hasanuddin University. The topic of her presentation was “The effect of temperature stress on coral Acropora species from three different island zones at Spermonde Archipelago.” On August 7-8, she will also give a poster presentation at the international symposium being organized by the Center of Excellent Marine Resilience and Sustainable Develepment, Hasanuddin University. With the project moving towards its closing date at the end of November 2018, Dr. Rukminasari and her team will spend the remaining months analyzing their coral bleaching field data and the results of the ocean acidification experiment, as well as preparing manuscripts on their findings for submission.

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