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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

In July 2017, Dr. Rukminasari and her team built 15 more light- and filter-equipped aquariums for their full ocean acidification experiment that was piloted in June. They also conducted a field visit to collect more coral samples off six islands (Badi, Lumu-Lumu, Balang Lompo, Karanrang, Lanyukang, and Kapoposan). After the coral samples are transplanted and acclimatized in late July, the full OA experiment will be run from early August to early September. Meanwhile, on the outreach side, team members also plan to conduct a community engagement activity at Balang Lompo Island on the topic of lobster mariculture, which represents a potential alternative source of income for residents of this isolated island. Meanwhile, the researchers continued their coral transplantation and in situ acclimatization experiment for three months beginning in late July.

October 2-3, 2017, the PI, researcher team members Dr. Dewi Yanuarita and Prof. Jamaluddin Jompa, and research assistant Mr. Suharto participated in a mesophotic coral workshop organized at Hasanuddin University in cooperation with the University of the Ryukyus (Japan) and Bogor Agriculture University. In this workshop, they presented some data of their first-year project data on coral conditions off the six islands of their study sites during the coral bleaching event of 2016. They also discussed a future study and potential research collaboration focused on shallow and mesophotic coral in the Spermonde Archipelago.

After the workshop, the team built their CO2 system, which will put to the test in a trial experience October 16-23, 2017. Another coral sample collection expedition is planned for October 28-31, and a six-month run of the ocean acidification experiment will be carried out from November 2017 through April 2018. One of the team’s research assistants will be presenting some first-year project results on coral fish data at the 3rd Enhancing Marine Biodiversity Research in Indonesia (EMBRIO) International Symposium at Bogor Agriculture Institute on November 16, 2017. A no-cost extension is being authorized through November 2018 to give this group additional time to complete their research, which was delayed by equipment procurement and customs-related delays.


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