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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here, two different tanks have been calibrated to represent different water temperatures and pH levels.
Corals are grown in controlled conditions at the Sea Simulator, with smaller specimens started off in coral nurseries.
Thanks to the perfectly controlled conditions at the SeaSim, researchers can hold and measure corals for an extended period of time.
As corals grow, researchers can test how they respond to changed conditions.
A reef "mesocosm" is an ecosystem that mimics the diversity found in nature, but inside a lab.
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.
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.
Inside the tanks at the SeaSim, marine creatures like these giant clams (Tridacna squamosa) grow as they would in the ocean.
A coral cod (Cephalopholis miniata) hides out at the SeaSim.
SeaSim precinct operations manager Craig Humphrey gets his hands wet.
Researcher Eduardo Arias during a quiet moment at the SeaSim.
The SeaSim's Matt Kenway watches over life in the artificial reef.