Countdown to destruction for Scotland's corals?
15th May 2012
With the oceans warming and moving towards acidity, will
Scotland's cold-water corals die out within a hundred years, as
some predict, or do they have the capacity to adapt and survive?
These are the key questions facing a team of top international
scientists about to set off on a month long research voyage in the
waters around Scotland using the latest robotic submersible
technology. The researchers will be aboard the Natural Environment
Research Council’s Royal Research Ship James Cook.
The 'Changing Oceans' expedition is part of the £12m UK Ocean
Acidification Research programme (UKOA) jointly funded by NERC,
DECC and Defra. It will study how these unique deep sea ecosystems
function, how they may be impacted by changes in sea temperature
and ocean chemistry and provide new information on how they might
best be protected into the future. Stewart Stevenson, Minister
for the Environment and Climate Change, who will be briefed by the
'Changing Oceans' team onboard before they set out said:
"The Changing Oceans Expedition will help us understand how these
ancient ecosystems function which is vital information for a sound
scientific basis for their future conservation."
"It's less than ten years since the discovery of the Mingulay coral
reefs by a team also led by Professor Roberts. Since then
understanding of this marine ecosystem has developed
"It is also very encouraging to see that the voyage is allowing
school pupils first-hand experience of the amazing ecosystems in
our offshore waters, and the opportunity to share this
understanding with other pupils around the country."
There will be a photo opportunity on board the RRS
James Cook during the Minister's visit. Please see below
At the start of the voyage schoolchildren from Sgoil Lionacleit in
Benbecula, will visit the ship to watch the expedition’s robotic
submarines explore the deep sea coral reefs growing on the
Hebridean seabed. The team will also be working with the pupils and
educational specialists from Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh to
develop environmental workshop materials for use in schools around
The research: Expedition leader Murray
Roberts, Professor of Marine Biology at Heriot-Watt University,
said, "For Scotland's coral reefs the key questions are: will these
changes in sea water chemistry make it impossible for the corals to
grow, or can they somehow adapt to changing conditions and survive?
"Over the past 100 years, human activities including the burning of
oil, coal and gas have increased carbon dioxide levels in the
atmosphere, causing the oceans to become warmer and lower in pH.
For cold-water corals, these changes mean that they may start to
grow slower, need more food to survive, and may not even be able to
grow in some areas. There may also be changes in how much food is
available, as the whole marine food web is likely to be altered,
unpredictably, in a future, warmer, lower pH ocean."
"We need to learn more about how these corals will react to the
changes, by studying how they survive now, and by doing laboratory
experiments to see how they respond to different conditions. There
are also a myriad of other animals and microorganisms which live on
and around these coral reefs – we will be examining how these
creatures will be affected by changes in their environment. Our
work will also characterise the carbonate chemistry and
environmental conditions surrounding the reef areas, and map the
seabed. We will also collect cores of the seabed that can take us
back thousands of years in time."
In a month-long sea voyage the Changing Oceans team will
visit a number of key sites in UK, Irish and international waters,
using remote-controlled underwater vehicles to film ecosystems like
cold-water coral reefs and deep-sea sponge grounds. The team plans
to visit several sites, including the shallow reefs off Mingulay,
and the deeper reefs on Rockall Bank and the Logachev Mounds. The
scientists will also conduct seabed experiments and collect samples
which will be transported in large specialised sea water tanks for
further study in the lab.
They will also be running a blog covering details of the voyage,
the research and their findings on: http://www.changingoceans2012.blogspot.co.uk/
Long-term educational outreach:
Some pupils from Sgoil Lionacleit Benbecula will have the
opportunity to visit the RRS James Cook at sea, watch how the team
operates and see with their own eyes the amazing views of their
sub-sea neighbourhood being fed back from underwater vehicles.
Then, in a long-term project, being run in conjunction with ‘Our
Dynamic Earth’ in Edinburgh, they will also study the needs of the
different stakeholders likely to be affected by the impacts of
climate change on the marine environment. As part of this, the
team, including the children themselves, will develop educational
tools for workshops on such conservation issues for use in schools
Dr Christine Angus, Education Manager at ‘Our Dynamic Earth’,
said, “We are delighted to be working with the science team on the
Changing Oceans Expedition."
Professor Murray Roberts said, "It's the upcoming generations
who are going to be the custodians of the natural world. This is an
opportunity for young people to see with their own eyes the amazing
underwater habitats that exist on their own doorstep."
There will be a photo opportunity on board the RRS James
Cook during the Minister's visit at 11.45am, 15 May 2012, King
George V Dock, Govan
Alternatively news-quality images can be
Tel: 0131-451 3443
The RSS James Cook cruise 'Changing oceans Expedition' is
funded by the UK Ocean Acidification (UKOA) research programme as
part of the Benthic Consortium research project. The UKOA programme
is a collaborative venture between the Natural Environment Research
Council (NERC), the Department for Environment, Fisheries &
Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Energy & Climate
The Changing Oceans Expedition includes scientists from 4
countries: UK (Heriot-Watt University, Plymouth Marine Laboratory,
Cefas, University of Hull, National Oceanography Centre, University
of Glasgow, University of Aberdeen), Spain (Instituto Español de
Oceanografía), Germany (GEOMAR) and USA (Fish & Wildlife
Service) with the deep-sea remotely operated vehicle supplied by
the Irish Marine Institute.