Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oceanic Cooperation: research groups join forces for more informative results

Scientific research groups are known for their detailed and focused work. Communication or educational groups are known for getting the word out. For ocean conservation, it's usually a good idea when the two can come together. You end up with fresh new data that is presented to others in a way that increases public awareness or stimulates further research.

While this type of cooperation was a bit rare in the past, more and more often organizations are working towards a collective good, a more broadly shared base of information. Here are two examples recently announced.

The Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute is developing a partnership with the Georgia Aquarium's Research Center, the goal of which is to conduct
studies that will be communicated to a variety of audiences, from the general public to academic/educational groups. Initial joint studies by the two groups on a health assessment of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins along the eastern Florida coast proved successful and the door is now open for future studies of whale sharks in Mexico, beluga whales in Alaska, spotted eagle rays in Florida, and penguins in South Africa.

“We are so pleased to formalize our relationship with the Georgia Aquarium,” said FAU President Mary Jane Saunders. “FAU and the Georgia Aquarium already have a number of existing marine science research, education and conservation collaborations that reflect our shared interests, and joining forces will enable us to expand our research enterprises.”

On the other side of the globe, in Indonesia's Sulawesi Sea, scientists from the Indonesia Agency for Marine and Fisheries Research
are working with their counterparts in NOAA to study the deeper waters of this biodiversity-rich area. The coral reefs of the Sulawesi Sea are well
known to both serious and vacationing scuba divers and are a constant source of study for researchers due to the currently relative good health of the reefs. But not much is known about the deeper waters where volcanic activity and hydrothermal vents produce harsh environments that support unusual forms of life able to withstand these extreme conditions.

Assisted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, NOAA's research vessel, Okeanos Explorer, and the Indonesian research vessel, Baruna Jaya IV, utilized remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and the latest in high definition video and satellite transmission to deliver real-time images and discoveries to waiting scientists and academics from Jakarta to Seattle to Silver Spring, Maryland.

“We observed and imaged perhaps 40 potential new coral species and 50 potential new species of other animals, including those inhabiting an actively venting volcano. Documenting the abundance, biodiversity and distribution of deep-ocean animals will allow us to better understand the functioning of the ecosystems in the area and infer how resilient they are to human activities,” said Woods Hole grad student Santiago Herrera.

Dr. Sugiarta Wirasantosa, Indonesia's chief scientist on the expedition, commented,
“It’s especially important for Indonesians to better understand our ocean,” said Sugiarta. “Indonesia is a nation of 17,000 islands with a population that depends largely on the ocean for safety and on ocean resources for food, trade and economic well-being. Measurements of the flow of deep water masses through the deep Sulawesi Sea will help us better understand the ‘Indonesian Throughflow,’ which is important to all because it plays a major role in the global distribution of heat transported by ocean currents.”

Cooperation between nation's scientific organizations, combining research with broader communication entities, and a more open sharing of knowledge are critical steps in making science-based observations and solutions of ecological or environmental conditions indisputable. The public and the policy makers benefit from greater awareness and, in turn, so will the oceans themselves.

Read more about the FAU/Georgia Aquarium partnership.
Read More about the
Indonesia/United States joint research.

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