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Inside the Sea Simulator mimicking the Great Barrier Reef

On the east coast of Australia, scientists are using a giant artificial ocean to re-create the Great Barrier Reef, and replicate conditions expected in 2100.

claire-reilly2
Claire Reilly
Australia's National Sea Simulator
1 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Australia's National Sea Simulator

Thirty miles west of the Great Barrier Reef, researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science have created a carbon copy of the ocean. The Sea Simulator, in Townsville, Queensland, was created to research the effects of climate change on marine life. 

Australia's National Sea Simulator
2 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Australia's National Sea Simulator

The Sea Simulator allows researchers to create entire miniature ecosystems, with multiple organisms living together, rather than keeping single species in individual tanks. The result? Conditions that more closely resemble those found on a real reef.

The colour and the shape
3 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Mini reefs

Researchers Emmanuelle Botte and Nicole Webster observe conditions in one of the SeaSim's tanks. Webster says the facility allows her team to create "mini reefs" of organisms, all living together. 

Mini reefs
4 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

The colour and the shape

Each tank at the SeaSim can be perfectly calibrated to mimic real ocean conditions, from temperatures (adjustable down to 0.1 degrees Celsius), pH levels and even variations in sunlight re-created with LED lighting. 

Australia's National Sea Simulator
5 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Australia's National Sea Simulator

The SeaSim lets researchers re-create the reef as it's expected to look in the year 2100 to find out how organisms will respond to future climate conditions. 

Experiments in progress
6 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Experiments in progress

Up to 3 million litres of seawater are pumped through the SeaSim's pipes every day. The water is filtered down to 0.04 microns and directed to as many as 48 tanks.

Perfect control
7 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Perfect control

Here, two different tanks have been calibrated to represent different water temperatures and pH levels.

Coral farm
8 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Coral farm

Corals are grown in controlled conditions at the Sea Simulator, with smaller specimens started off in coral nurseries.

The full life cycle
9 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

The full life cycle

Thanks to the perfectly controlled conditions at the SeaSim, researchers can hold and measure corals for an extended period of time.

All grown up
10 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

All grown up

As corals grow, researchers can test how they respond to changed conditions. 

Artificial sunlight
11 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Artificial sunlight

A reef "mesocosm" is an ecosystem that mimics the diversity found in nature, but inside a lab.  

A hyper-realistic aquarium
12 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

A hyper-realistic aquarium

It's not just coral being kept in the SeaSim. Researchers also measure how changing water conditions affect organisms such as fish, molluscs and anemones.

Crown of thorns starfish
13 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Crown-of-thorns starfish

The vicious-looking crown-of-thorns starfish is a major threat to coral on the reef. Juvenile starfish feed on algae, while adults eat the coral itself.

Clams!
14 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Clams!

Inside the tanks at the SeaSim, marine creatures like these giant clams (Tridacna squamosa) grow as they would in the ocean.

Marine life
15 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Marine life

A coral cod (Cephalopholis miniata) hides out at the SeaSim.

gbr-seasim-underwater
16 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Inspecting marine organisms

SeaSim precinct operations manager Craig Humphrey gets his hands wet.

Australia's National Sea Simulator
17 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Australia's National Sea Simulator

Researcher Eduardo Arias during a quiet moment at the SeaSim. 

Tank life
18 of 18 Christian Miller/Australian Institute of Marine Science

Australia's National Sea Simulator

The SeaSim's Matt Kenway watches over life in the artificial reef. 

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