The problems facing coral reefs today are well documented. It’s an issue close to home for all Australians with the Great Barrier Reef’s ecosystem coming under pressure from a number of threats.
Elevated sediment volumes are a key stressor to coral reef ecosystems around the globe and Andrew Pomeroy from UWA’s Ocean Institute has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to undertake work to better understand the dynamics of sediment transport in coral reefs.
The coastal oceanographer, engineer and postdoctoral researcher says we don’t have a good understanding of sediment volumes or transport at the moment, which affects our ability to better protect these precious coral reef ecosystems.
“Coral reefs are very complex environments. Building an understanding of the processes that transport sediment will help us determine baseline sediment volumes and distinguish between what is occurring naturally and what can be attributed to human activity such as dredging, land runoff and processes associated with climate change.”
Fulbright Scholarships promote research collaboration and cultural exchange to foster understanding between Australia and the United States. Andrew will spend 2018 in Santa Cruz working with researchers to develop quantitative methods to estimate baseline sediment volumes as well as models to describe how sediment is transported in coral reef environments.
“There’s many reasons why it makes sense to work more closely with the United States on coastal issues. Obviously when tackling a complex problem such as this it’s great to bring together a variety of experts who have a wide range of experience.
“Also the US has a lot of data sets that are invaluable as we endeavour to develop new reef-specific models that can be used worldwide,” he says.
From a strategic viewpoint Andrew says it’s also a crucial issue for both the US and Australia.
“Climate migration is becoming more of a concern for both our countries. We are starting to see more cases of coastline erosion, overwash and flooding of low lying islands worldwide. These islands are often protected by coral reefs, so understanding sediment transport processes is essential developing strategies to combat these issues,” he says.
The United States isn’t the only bilateral partnership that Andrew is involved in building. He’s also part of the team that have been working with the University of Mauritius to educate key stakeholders throughout the Indian Ocean region on the coastal environment as well as the impacts of climate change.
“In 2014 our Universities agreed to develop stronger strategic ties and facilitate joint Indian Ocean research. It’s largely capacity building at the moment but we are in the process of developing strategic research projects unique to small island nations such as Mauritius.
“The more we understand about the coastal environment the better placed we will be, as a scientific community to inform policy decisions and make targeted interventions,” he says.