Underwater mini-lab could help save coral reefs

Ocean pollution is a global problem. 

Between tons of floating plastic, toxic runoff from agricultural development, and chemical contaminants dumped by big industry, it’s a wonder that we don’t all emerge from the waves with glow-in-the-dark skin. As usual, however, it’s the plants and animals that live in the ocean that will pay the biggest price.

Scientists say that a combination of warming temperatures and human pollution is causing the world’s oceans to become more acidic. This acidification could have devastating effects on coral populations, not to mention the myriad of species that depend on them for food and shelter. 

Now, a team of scientists from Stanford University have developed an underwater mini-laboratory that will help them analyze how reefs respond to ocean acidification.

Working with an international team of collaborators, Stanford researchers found a way to create future ocean conditions in a small lab-in-a-box in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The water inside the device can mimic the composition of the future ocean as climate change continues to alter Earth. The lab acts as a sort of cage in shallow water, allowing scientists to see how a few corals react to increased levels of acidity without damaging the entire reef.

The device uses a network of sensors to monitor water conditions and maintain experimental pH levels as offsets from environmental pH, making it possible to study amid natural conditions such as seasonal environmental changes and ambient seawater chemistry.

“Installing systems like this at reefs and other aquatic environments could be instrumental in helping us identify how ecosystems will change and which locations and ecosystem types are more likely to remain robust and resilient,” said Lida Teneva, a Stanford University doctoral student who helped with the study. 

”From this, we can determine which habitats to focus our conservation efforts on as strongholds for the future.”

Beth Buczynski, EarthTechling