£50,000 coral research facility opens


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A new £50,000 aquarium has opened at Essex University to help with research into the growth of corals under controlled laboratory conditions.

The new tropical research facility forms part of the University’s Coral Reef Research Unit and doubles up as a coral husbandry facility, enabling the unit to propagate their own corals.
The main system is unique in that it contains distinct experimental chambers, allowing different environments to be created in separate areas of the system.

Dr Dave Smith, Director of the Unit, said: "We now have total control over coral growth conditions and this will enable us to answer key questions from the molecular to the ecosystem level. It is a new era of research for us and UK coral science."

Research projects currently under way at the unit include studies into how different environments affect coral mortality and how climate change affects the structure of reefs.

The aquarium set-up includes two main holding tanks, coral husbandry tanks, three banks of nine experimental tanks that can be individually connected or disconnected from the main system, quarantine tanks, sumps and fragment tanks.

The main system has a minimum total volume of 1520 l., uses metal halide lighting and has a flow rate of 3000 lph (5x turnover). The temperature, salinity, water chemistry and lighting can all be manipulated individually in each experimental chamber.

At present, two banks of experimental tanks have been closed off and are running experiments to investigate the effects of light and temperature on the growth of Acroporids and calcareous coralline algae.

The current stock includes corals from the genera Acropora (seven species), Montipora (two species), Porites (two species) Seriatopora and Stylophora, plus an orange tree gorgonian and various soft corals. The system also contains invertebrates and a few herbivorous fish, including an Algae blenny, Foxface rabbitfish and Yellow tang, to help with algae control.