'World's smartest aquarium' opens in Australia

The National Sea Simulator (SeaSim) has opened at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, North Queensland.

The $35 million SeaSim is a research aquarium that can get closer to replicating the conditions of the open ocean; a reef lagoon; or flooding rivers, than any other facility in the world.

"It's awesome," says AIMS marine researcher Mike Hall. "When we started planning SeaSim we visited over 40 marine aquariums around the world to identify key attributes of the perfect research facility. What we've built takes the best in the world and adds new technologies and an incredible level of automation and control.

"In each tank we can automatically control many parameters — from water temperature to ocean acidification to salinity to lighting to nutrients and water quality etc.

"SeaSim will allow marine scientists the world over to test observations, assumptions and models. It will allow the development of technologies to assist aquaculture and fisheries management.

"It's not the be-all — it still has walls unlike the open ocean. But it will fast track marine discovery."

Fighting the Crown-of-thorns stafish will be one of the main priorities for the new aquarium.

"We need to understand why starfish populations periodically boom leading to massive reef destruction," says John Gunn. "Is it due to nutrients in flood waters or are more complex factors at play?"

"Crown-of-thorns talk to each other with chemicals — they gather in groups and they 'run away' when predators such as the Giant Triton move in to feed on them. Could we use those chemical signals to trick starfish into congregating or dispersing – making physical removal easier? We hope to answer these and many other questions about the starfish with the help of SeaSim."

The new aquarium will also be used to study the mechanisms of coral bleaching and the long term effects of global warming and acidification of the oceans.

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