Scuba Goat

Jennifer Matthews - Future Reefs Research, UTS - S03 E03

May 02, 2022 Matt Waters / Jennifer Matthews Season 3 Episode 3
Scuba Goat
Jennifer Matthews - Future Reefs Research, UTS - S03 E03
Show Notes Transcript

Dr Jen Matthews has pioneered the application of metabolomics to unravel the metabolic interactions underpinning coral health and resilience to environmental change.

Increasing environmental pressures, such as increased sea temperatures, are causing the catastrophic loss of coral cover around the globe, including the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world: the Great Barrier Reef. So, it’s unsurprising we are starting to see corals migrate poleward to cooler waters. In fact, Sydney has recently become home to a new subtropical coral. This raises a significant question: Could Sydney be a refuge for corals from the warming GBR?

 A Human Frontier Science Programme Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, Jen holds a PhD in Marine Biology (Dean’s list, Victoria University Wellington), a MRes (Imperial College London) and a BSc (Honours, Bath University). Jen is dedicated to finding solutions to current environmental challenges, targeting local (e.g. tropicalization of coastal NSW), national (e.g. Great Barrier Reef restoration), and global topics (e.g. microplastic pollution).

Her contributions are internationally recognised, being invited to join the prestigious Coral Bleaching Research Coordination Network, and the International Metabolomics Society Early-Career Members Network. In 2009, she founded ‘Big Blue Conservation’, a not-for-profit organisation protecting and restoring beautiful reef ecosystems in Thailand. Her industry engagement while developing the innovative microplastics removal tool, funded by Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation Seed Innovation Grant, has shown her to be an emerging STEMprenuer. Despite her early-career stage, Jen has secured $300,000 in competitive funding, produced 14 publications and actively advocates for effective science communication and women-in-STEM, through programs such as SoapboxScience Sydney 2019-2020.


Matt Waters:

I've got to start with, WOOHOOOOOO!. Two and a half years I think it is is trying to get you on this podcast and now you're here.

Jennifer Matthews:

I wish I say it was only work related.

Matt Waters:

When your daughter would say otherwise. How would she Yeah, she's really good. Yeah, she's really good. She's walking talking machine.

Jennifer Matthews:

She is so unstoppable. That girl

Matt Waters:

talking

Jennifer Matthews:

Oh my god. Yes, absolutely. Definitely takes after her dad. In talking. Determination. Definitely me like she. If some if that door won't open, she won't get it open. She will stay there and try and complain until that door opens. So yeah, I kind of love that about her.She's really good. She's almost 14 months now. Doing lovely like loves daycare.

Matt Waters:

Oh, yeah.

Jennifer Matthews:

And love socialising

Matt Waters:

Thats convenient for the work then.

Jennifer Matthews:

Yeah, it definitely is. Yeah. She's doing really well.

Matt Waters:

Awesome sauce. Well, you'd have to come back over and we'll barbecue at ours or something. happy days. Well, we'll get back anyway. Let's tell everyone who you are. Welcome to the show.

Jennifer Matthews:

So I am Dr. Jenn Matthews, I'm a choral biologist and metabolism assist. And that is essentially looking at metabolism. So I started my underwater adventure in the sunny island of Koh Tao. You know that very well. So I went for a holiday after I finished my undergraduate in biology at Boston University, just to kind of get away after I'd finished and I went for two weeks and to learn how to dive. And I ended up staying for years. And so it was during my underwater under Yeah, my first underwater I was like, good. You're open, like, open water. Open water close. My gosh. That's how long ago it's been how much. So yeah, I did my first open water course. And it was I loved the diving kind of side of it in the pool. I really, really liked it. And in between going in the pool to the next day going out in the open water. And my friends who I was meant to meet there emailed me to say that they weren't going to be able to make it anymore. And so I had a choice to make either I went travelling around Asia on my own or I went home and kind or stayed in hotel. And so I started talking to one of the divemasters or instructors there and they mentioned this divemaster programme and I was like okay, that sounds kind of interesting. And before I'd even gone underwater, I was interested by this darkness to cause the thought of staying on Kotel for so long and diving every day. That sounds amazing. So, and travelling on my own, I wasn't really interested in it at the time, I'd done a lot of travelling on my own, and I was more. I wanted to do it friends I think and around Asia as well, where it's a little bit on, not always as safe for for girls to travel on their own. I thought maybe I'll just stay here then. And then I went underwater. And yeah, it was kind of sold to me and then ended up doing my dive master and then during that course so I'd obviously done my undergraduate in biology and had a strong focus in conservation. And there has always been a fundamental kind of value of minus ecosystem conservation and then biology and I thought, what can I get involved in on Koh Tao in relation to kind of conservation work and dye school that I was at Big Blue diving, they didn't have a conservation presence beyond a couple of instructors who were kind of leading the way. And so I spoke to the manager and kind of floated the idea of maybe starting up and marine conservation organisations and that's what we did. So then I found it big blue conservation niches. Yeah, what was in 2010 I did that. So it's now still running I believe in doing amazing work and I was there for four years kind of eating that way and but I found after a while, the research side of it I wasn't really able to do on a small island like hotel because I didn't have access to lab facilities. And so I did my masters with some samples I collected from kotel but I had to do that back into UK. So I did my masters in Imperial College London, in ecology, evolution and conservation and decided I wanted to pursue a PhD. So that took me to New Zealand and away from Kotel and I did a PhD on looking at Coral relationships or coral partnerships and metabolism kind of got me into that area. And now I do a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, in the future reefs group of the climate change cluster, at sea and at UTS. I've been there for four years, almost three and a half years, and yes, sir. I've just been awarded a UTS Chancellor's postdoctoral fellowship. So I will be there for another four years teaching and researching. Excellent news. Congratulations.

Matt Waters:

It's funny, I'm just listening back to that, because I never knew that you started Big Blue conservation. Oh, really? Yeah. Because when I wrapped up, you were already there. Yes. Yeah. You were in place. I just assumed you were kind of one of many. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that was.

Jennifer Matthews:

It was, there was a lot of resistance at first, actually, which is not, which is there was resistance from a few different people. But it was there were other people who were really keen to see changes, then one of them being Jim, the manager. And that was, what spurred me on really was his passion behind it. And yeah, there was resistance in terms of the people who are already doing conservation on the island, I think felt a little bit threatened. Maybe don't pick it Yeah. It's the unknowing, isn't it? You know, if you got something that's a very small community, and I think so someone comes along to do what you're doing as well and got the qualifications to vote? Yeah. You get a young girl coming and going with, oh, you know, I've just learned this in my studies and all that kind of thing. So of course, the seas and islanders perhaps would be a bit resistant, and it was a business as well, at the end of the day. So you're stealing? Or you're, you're sharing a customer base, aren't you? So? But anyway, in the end, when I left, it was much more of an open culture. Yeah, I think things progressed very well. I know, by the time I think, in fact, it was the penultimate year, I was the there was a lot of the dive schools coming together and getting involved together for for cleanups, you know, good community work, I think the urgency for action, perhaps, was a driver for that seeing was, so 2010 was the one of the first bleaching events. One of the first I say sorry, that's absolutely wrong. What I mean by that is one of the major mass coral bleaching global events. And there were multiple ones before that, of course, but this one was particularly huge. And another thing was, it was only a few years prior that there had already seen some bleaching. So it was starting to become apparent that correlation was getting more and more common, I should explain what call bleaching is. So corals are complex organisms. And meta organisms, something we call a holobiont, which is made up of all different kinds of species. So corals are actually jellyfish related to jellyfish. And you have the core animal hosts, which has colourless sea free tissues. And within the coral hosts lives a tiny plant called algae. And that algae is the powerhouse for corals providing it with the majority of nutrients it needs through photosynthesis, which is the process that plants use to generate energy as well as the oxygen that we breathe. And so the coral kind of leverages off this metabolites, these nutrients that the algae produces, and in return, the algae gets a nice safe place to live. Nothing can eat it inside the coral. And as well as the coral and the algae there's bacteria and fungi and viruses and other protests which are all contributing to the health of this coral holobiont coral reefs are like shopping centres. And if you think of the shopping centre as being an entire reef, within a shopping centre, you've got multiple shops and those are your corals. And within each shop, you've got brightly coloured clothes and either items for sale and they are the things that fuel that shop and keep that shop open. as well. You've got security cameras and stuff that are protecting the shop and that is the bacteria providing protection. The algae is the brightly coloured clothes providing colour to the shop and in all the shops work together to make a functioning shopping centre. So these corals work together to make a functioning ecosystem of functioning reef. So their micro algae that live within the corals are really essential for a number of different Reasons that what are the primary factors is that they can help the coral withstand changes in their environment. So if the water gets too hot, for example, what happens is that relationships breaks down, they'd no longer have friends. And the coral loses its argue. And because the algae provide the coral with the beautiful colours that you see, without that algae, the coral turns white, which is what we know as coral bleaching. So is it the algae that's dying from the temperature that change or is actually, so there's a number of different things that happen in these, the exact process is still unclear, that whether it's that the coral expels the algae, the algae dies within the coral tissue, or the algae hides further within the coral and in the skeleton, or whether the algae just decides it doesn't want to live there anymore. And rather than being excels, it tries to escape the coral tissue. Whatever, probably more complex and integrated reasons of those, essentially, the coral loses the algae out of its tissues, and it doesn't have that source of nutrients anymore. So the coral is not dead, is just without food. And without its main food source. And so like you and I, if we didn't eat for a while, that would make us very unhealthy make us more prone to infections. And if we didn't get food soon, then we would die. And exactly the same happens for corals. If they don't get that algae back, if the temperatures of the water don't decrease within a certain length of time, then the corals won't survive, and they die. Or they succumb to things like infections or the pressures? And is it is about the time between losing the LD and Dion does it does it differ depending on the coral species? Absolutely, yes. Difference between species within species in terms of bleaching. And that is the question that has been driving coral biology research for the last 50 years is why do we get this with between and within species difference. And you can have one species in one location that doesn't perform very well and hotter waters. And you have that same coral species and a different attitude. And it does perform really well when the conditions change. So these are the mechanisms we're trying hard and desperately to understand. So that we can better predict how corals might respond to the ever increasing temperatures of our oceans.

Matt Waters:

Ever increasing? That's what's your what's your take on all the gossip that's going on at the moment? With the temperatures rise in and that's it. I'm not I'm not gonna I'm not gonna jump on the politicians back again. But they seem to poopoo it and aim for 2050 and say all the good words, but do nothing. Yeah, isn't that just?

Jennifer Matthews:

Oh, well, I think that there was this amazing infographic that NASA released recently that showed that the temperatures are not just increasing year on year, but that increasing around the year as well. So temperatures in the coolest part of our year, here in the middle of July and Australia where it's meant to be coolest, it's still hotter than it was last year and the year before that, and the year before that. So even the colder months are getting warmer. So there's so then you can think about the the hotter months, they're becoming even more extreme. And the corals and other marine organisms are getting no reprieve because the waters are still higher than they should be throughout the year saying I mean, it's not going to start a political debate. Because I don't really know enough about the I can't comment on the on the politics side of it. I guess I can say from the scientific sense of things. There is no question that climate change is occurring. Whether your question as to how it's occurring. I'm not getting involved in that argument. But the scientific side of it shows there is climate change, and that is widely accepted across the scientific community. There is no debate about that. So yeah, I kind of got a little bit confused on the the temperature difference for catastrophic failures of the oceans. What's your take on it all? So there's the IPCC which is the International Panel on Climate Change. They they go off this scale of represent representative concentration pathway is essentially a greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere and a trajectory in and they have a few different levels. What unstart If there was no increase one that is there was slight increase from our current state. And then the more drastic levels. And what you'll see in terms of corals is that the bleaching events that were once rare or at least infrequent, are happening every year. And the other factors is play, that means that they are unable to rebuild fast enough. And then they're degrading. For example, ocean acidification is one of the things and that is essentially that they'll see this becoming more and more acidic. And if you put a skeleton or you know, your tooth in a acidic in vinegar, for example, your teeth degrades over time, so and you can't really build teeth in vinegar, right, so the exact same things happens and the ocean of the ocean becomes too acidic, then you get corals, their skeletons, exactly like yours analysis, this, they have the same calcium carbonate skeleton, and they, the skeletons degrade, and then they are unable to deposit new skeleton and grow. So there's all these different impacts that greenhouse gases have beyond just temperature. So anyway, so if we continue at the current project trajectory, then we will see a significant loss in coral cover by 2050, to the point where we're talking extinction level events. Really don't want to let it get that far, really. So we're desperate to try to intervene to protect the species diversity, as well as cover because there's so many things that depend on coral reefs, we are intimately connected to coral reefs, we rely on them as a source of protein, they offer billions of dollars and millions of jobs to VAC 100 countries around the world. Even in the in Australia, for example, a study by Deloitte with revealed that the Great Barrier Reef is something that $56 billion in economic value. And that's not the iconic and traditional owner asset side of it, it's not even the iconic side of it, that the actual economic value of the Great Barrier Reef is 66 billion. And that's what we would lose. Not only are they economic value and a source of protein, but they provide coastal protection. And anybody in Sydney right now it probably across the east coast of Australia, finding all these storms hitting on shores, and all the devastation that that's causing corals can provide a buffer for wave action, and they can slow down wave action. So we would lose that storm protection. And they are an important source for medicines. In fact, we've discovered medicines for outsiders cancer, bacterial infections, and you know, it was things like COVID are now COVID and is now integrated into our society. We need that source of potential new medicines. And we would lose that if we lost coral reefs. So we need to stop this catastrophic loss. But how do you do that? Because you've got so many different factors affecting corals. Where do you start? And there's no history? There's no like? There's no reference sheet, no references, no, nothing that's happened like this before in our lifetime that we've know or we're lessons learned. Why don't we just do that. So there's so many different projects and some crazy, amazingly inventive projects happening in Australia and around the world to try to mitigate some of those effects. But the bottom line is unless we reduce our carbon emissions and bring climate change to a manageable level on then it's all just buying time that

Matt Waters:

I kind of floated past. And we're talking to Kate last week. Kate Parker, I don't know whether, you know, she's Sea Shepherd lady, she started doors in the day. And we were on the subject of climate change, all that kind of stuff. And I kind of I'm of the opinion nowadays that we're kind of on on the path of destruction, and that destruction is going to occur at some point in the future. And I honestly don't believe we can change that now. But what we can do, we can't prevent it. But we can change it by delaying the onset, I think at some point in the future, long pastures, and maybe the next generation as well, but I think it's going to occur at some point. I think it's so easy to be pessimistic situations, but I am definitely a environmental optimist, and I like to think that we will, that the

Jennifer Matthews:

thoughts of our generation will power for edits and changes will happen. You just need. I mean, it's as if you compare the actions that are in place today versus 510 years ago, and the voice of the climate change deniers today versus 510 years ago, I think that you we have seen a shift, especially with the new generation coming through. But, yeah, I like to think that it's not like to think like Java is not a waste of time. And hopefully, that we, we will see, corals, they might not be the coral reefs that we know today. But I imagine that we will see coral reefs corals are a 700 million years old. They will, they've outlived a number of extinction events, they will outlive us. But it's up to us to preserve our own species. And as I say, we were so intimately connected and reliant on coral reefs. And sure they're out of sight, out of mind for many people, but they are there and they are, like, intricate, Keystone ecosystem engineers, and we need to do stuff to help them.

Matt Waters:

You touched on the subject. I think one of the big problems is that it's out of sight out of mind, because people can't see beneath the surface. They'll see photos on little videos on Tiktok, and all this kind of stuff, amazing looking riffs. And think that's beautiful. But if they actually, you know, even if he drained the oceans for a day, just so people could go to the beach of their own country and have a look, what's their standard? Yeah, well, I think if you ask most people what coral is they'll say it's a rock. Yeah, it's it's not it's an animal. It's

Jennifer Matthews:

a plant and mineral and everything else, as well. But yeah, that's the one of the problems. And that's one of the things that I and colleagues of mine are really trying to do is bring it to bring the rest to people. So through effective science, communication, and events, like the ocean lovers festival in Bondi and soapbox, science, Sydney, these kinds of events are showcasing some of the researchers, their work that they do, and even in the northern beaches as the ocean festival,

Matt Waters:

are you saying you must be in a great position being at the university, seeing the kids come through. So kids, young adults, come in through the Earth, as keen as mustard to actually make a change, because we are in that exciting time. And I was pessimistic earlier on, but we are in that exciting time, where we're changing from, you know, Hartley, online and partly written and spoken to much more the generation behind us and, and behind them as more and more digital. So everything is open to the public. And I can only imagine those kids that are coming through now are going to be doing much more online and raising that awareness probably better than what we could. Yeah. Well, sustainability is not just in no taught in science, it's still in engineering. And

Jennifer Matthews:

you know, so in business, especially at UTS, there's sustainability as a fundamental value for UTS. And so yeah, it's not just scientists who have that in their site, which is really nice to see. And the but you know, something since I did my PhD, and since I started my studies is that now you're seeing more focus on impact and outputs and actual physical output. So it's not just okay, well, the coral and it's argue they do this, it's how can we use this to inform conservation strategies and help safeguard the future of reefs? Like how can we use this knowledge now? And how can we apply it? And that's really nice. Exciting. It's super exciting. Yeah, so I don't know. Like, I remember, some, when I started off in corals, and you know,

Matt Waters:

people seeing them dying hearing hearing about massive losses of corals around the world. I say, Oh, would you have a job in a few years time and desperately fighting for it? Yeah. But I think yeah, there's, like, we we can't afford not to say, exactly, yeah, if we ignore it, then it does. Really go down the pessimistic. Yeah. Hey, I know, I wanted to ask you, yes, a few years ago, when I was, in fact, it was back in 2018. And I was taking the group into Papua New Guinea, we were discussing a coral that you were getting all excited about. And I can't remember what it was. He said it was. It was on the GBR. And you've kind of seen

Jennifer Matthews:

this is sightings. Like coming down this way? Yeah. Yeah. So there is I think it was about this photo. aquifer and called John Sia, who 2013 I believe first cited these corals in Sydney. And corals have sorry, Sydney's had corals for a long time, but they've been very small kind of non reef building corals. They've been encrusting corals. The species is pleasee Astra various borer, and it's, it has kind of Cosmopolitan coral, it stretches all the way down to the very south end of Australia. So it's, that's quite a temperate coral, it does extend down those regions. But this new coral, this coral that has come down from the north is called Pocillopora, Alicia. And so are pasilla porur. If you would like pasta porur lsca Pelosi postulate a little bit but false pasilla paura Alyssia, and it is a subtropical coral. So, previously, the southern Rangers were expected or assumed to be around the solitary islands. And they Jhansi I found some colonies in in Sydney, and it was first assumed Oh, well, they weren't asked, you know, they're probably not going to be there. But then we started to see some sub tropical fish inhabiting them, and some crabs inhabiting them. So this raises the question, Are these harmless refugees seeking cooler waters from the Great Barrier Reef? Or are these Invasive alien species that are going to damage the existing ecosystem? Because certainly has some incredible ecosystems like seagrass ecosystems as well as existing corals that I mentioned. And, you know, what, has been in Sydney for centuries? So the southern invasion? If you've heard of this new coral, then is this good, right? They are they Friend or foe? Are they going to help increase the biodiversity? Are they going to help provide them? Is it going to be the start of a refuge for corals for other subtropical corals? Is Sydney going to be the new home of the Great Barrier Reef? I'd her you know, like? These are really important questions that we need to answer, whether bad or good. And yeah, so some work that I have been involved in, I was very, very glad to receive a patty Foundation grant, as well as the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Ethel, Mary. I can't remember the name of it, grant. And both of these grants helped support some research to look at whether the invasive coral and the existing species of coral if they came to hit heads, which one would survive. And we looked at that under normal temperatures or normal normal summer temperatures. And then we looked at it under the future projected temperatures. And we saw two different things. So you saw first of all, that the invasive coral survives better and survive full stop the higher water temperatures than the native coral species. So that's a really important finding. Because if waters continue to get warmer, then we may lose the existing species. And those new invasive species will become more prevalent, because they've got nothing to compete with. But we also saw, we put them close together and have some fantastic videos of them, essentially fighting each other. So when corals, as I mentioned, they're animals, so they they have the ability to fight. And what they do is they have so a coral is made up of hundreds of little polyps, which are mouths essentially a little individual polyps are like if you turn it jellyfish upside down, and the tentacles are sticking up, and then inside of the mouth in the middle. And what they do is they spit out their stomach. And the stomach comes in these really long fibres called the central fibres. And they, when they hit something that they want to attack, then they essentially degrade it from the outside and then they suck it all back in their stomach back in. So it's really, really great. The native coral has really big mouse, the latest car has very small mouse. So who do you think one? Well, I'm gonna go with I'm gonna go with a little fella. Yeah. Oh, no, the opposite of the native one, one. So even. And even when we raised the temperatures a little bit, the native ones still managed to outcompete the invasive one. So that's really interesting. So that will mean that although if temperatures raised beyond that threshold of that that native one can withstand, then they're still unless they do be extended beyond that threshold, and they're probably going to live in harmony, I guess, if you would, because See, there's another aspect I should say that they are not necessarily so rarely found in the same depth of water. So they don't really come close to each other. So, but if they did if this this invasive start coral started to really try to branch out, excuse upon, then it might come into contact with these ones, but that's okay. Because the native one can apparently fight defend itself well enough. Yeah. Yeah, this is pretty cool. And so we're just publishing that at the moment, or it's just been accepted. So that's really exciting, because that work will be out. But that work is now sped, or fueled some other research from it, because we want to know, this, this population of this subtropical corals that exists at the moment in the solid trees. And then there's some down here in Sydney, what is it southern range? What is its most southern range, and this is something that we're trying to call on dive centres to report if they ever see these corals. And we can find the most southern corals. But also, we're running kind of some experiments alongside weather to, to find out the cold extreme, but also the heat extreme, because there's a really interesting question that if these corals have come down from the nor do they maintain that heat tolerance, that they might experience at higher, lower latitudes where the waters warmer at high latitudes? Do they maintain that heat tolerance? Or do they lose it? But does is the cold tolerance better in populations at higher latitudes are further south than the ones at lower latitudes? So these are really important questions that massive student, Laura LaMotta is answering at the moment at UTS. So who's Laura and amata, she's my master's student. She's working at the moment at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science setting up an incredible system called a sea bass system, which is called bleaching assay. As all these acronyms that you just call these acronyms the whole time. Acronyms with Latin. Yeah. Sea Bass is cold bleaching, automated stress system. So, yeah, she's using a coral bleaching automated stress system in which essentially, we can turn the temperatures up really high and down really low, and monitor the coral health throughout. And it means that we can see there kind of upper and lower tolerances. And you do see quite a quick reaction when you're trying to temperatures if the temperature is changed quickly, if you see a quick reaction, if there's a long time stepping up, then you might see this kind of threshold where they'll Leach. It's very dependent on the species and individual, but perhaps it could be at a point five of a degree difference, and they're okay, and then they're not okay. So yeah, it's a very, very, very subtle difference. I think it's fair to point out as well to people listening in coral bleaching does occur naturally at times as well, isn't it? Yeah. Well, it's always naturally it's like it is absolutely a natural process. And it's not necessarily always a bad thing. Because if a coral with these these algos in my answer because listing in corals, diff, there's different there's hundreds and hundreds of different species of this algae. And they each have different thermal tolerances, as well as the ability to provide different levels of nutrients. So there is a theory that is called the adaptive bleaching hypothesis wherever coral bleaching is maybe it gives the opportunity for a more heat tolerant species of the algae to inhabit the coral, and then in subsequent bleaching events, then there's more tolerant. So that is a theory and that's something that we're looking at, but the mechanisms from my work anyway, especially in terms of the nutritional interactions, it suggests that there is an immune response to new semi ion species that is not always favourable, but if the if given enough time, then they they could become favourable, and they could establish a symbiosis or you might see co evolution of the existing then by that I mean the existing similar ant species is able to adapt to increased thermal threshold and I stand by all of these things like this, these repeated bleaching events while they're natural, there's there's repercussions from that. And one of the biggest repercussions is reproduction is without natural levels of reproduction. You don't get this genetic diversity or or just mixing of gene pools in order to create new corals, new baby corals and new adult corals that could potentially survive me Heat to hot, hotter waters. And so the biggest problem with that is if you get bleaching, they're starving right during that bleaching and if they're starving, they're using up all their resources. So they don't have any, if they do survive that bleaching event, they then don't have the resources to reproduce that. Yeah, so we're seeing a decline in the reproduction rate. Not only that, but then the surviving corals that do reproduce is often less. And then, of the eggs that are released, the survival rate is lower, because the conditions are not favourable, like the temperatures is too warm, or it's too acidic, or that they're having to battle with higher levels of macro algal growth on the reef, so they can't find a place to live. So one of the really, really important steps is to, to rebuild reefs is to increase the survivorship of larvae. If you can feed coral larvae, you can increase their survivorship. And I've just been ordered a pure ocean grant to investigate this potential, and to take it from the lab to the reef, and to generate a pathway and kind of almost like an SOP for managers around the world to feed larvae and increase that survival rate. Because there's initiatives all over the world, for example, the C Corp and assertive they're, they're helping. It's called level receding. So we received reefs with baby corals, and they take so less than 1% of corals, spawn survives, corals larvae survive. So what they do rather to help give them this fighting chance. So you can increase that survivorship by taking the larvae when they've spawned either naturally on the roof or in a lab environment, and then giving them a helping hand to mature into adult colonies, giving them more space to settle, where they're not going to be eaten by things or under controlled conditions in a lab environment or directly onto the reef. And then putting those devices with little mini baby corals, when they're a little bit more resilient back onto the reef. This is larval receding. And that's great because it increases the genetic diversity back on reefs, it's natural, it's a natural process. So you're not intervening in any way. In an Baikonur potentially risky wave, you're essentially just helping them out with their reproductive success, just exactly the same that doctors do for us. Right. And, and this is such an easy process to do so easy to do it and the methods are there, and they're readily available to go and,

Unknown:

you know,

Jennifer Matthews:

as long as you found a coral that's about to spawn, capture the spawn, raise it in a lab environment, or on the reef, and then put it back in again. So why why is it not? Why has it not been done before? Because it has. So this has done reliable receding, has done and has been done for many years, and even on a mass scale. So some of the research from the sun cross Institute, sorry, Southern Cross University, they've made these huge pontoons that you that like larvae, pools essentially to help them and they're directly on the roof. So I was involved in this research couple of years ago. And we Yes, we deploy these pontoons essentially, these big nets and captured call spawn slicks which are on the surface of the water. And you keep them in these, like pools. Stuffing things from eating them, because you know, I say, basically like a larvae soup, fish, which is delicious. For fish, it's like a little fat lipid for so give them a fighting chance and at that stage, and then release them when they start to find places to settle. So, and lobbies want to settle on to by settling I mean, find somewhere to set up camp that their life, and they start to swim down. So when they actually start to swim down, then we release them out of the net, and that gives and directly onto the reefs. And that gives them a maybe a little kickstart. And there's some amazing success from that. Yeah. But what we want to do is that that survivorship is still really low. Even with those interventions, it's still really low. So how do we improve that even more? And that's what this really exciting. I'm very, very excited by this new grind. And yeah, so we will be leading that research over the next couple of years. And hopefully, one of the things that we want to produce from that one of the important outputs is that it's readily available and easy to implement by all these groups who have existing level reseeding projects. So that's a fundamental part of it is to create these accessible All videos, almost like documentary style kind of videos of how to do it from start to finish. So it's clear for people around the world to do it themselves. Because sharing that knowledge and sharing those techniques is essential if we're going to maintain or preserve our world's roots. So this is the when you say that people around the world can do this. So they're going to have to be obviously

Matt Waters:

technically minded have the facilities on the kind of thing. Do you foresee that at some point in the future, something as simple as a dive centre, such as big blue, or, you know, Jarvis Bay diving can do this as well, the blue could do this. Now, absolutely Big Blue could do love or receding 100% Like the,

Jennifer Matthews:

this, this a C, have a look at C Corp, the S E, C O R E. So they have released a blueprint for making these larvae collection nets, and videos and they were kind of this inspiration for me. And as to that I love how that's readily available and that you don't have to wade through scientific manuscripts and stuff to find out this information that it's because there's many, you know, reef managers around the world who don't have access to those kind of scientific manuscripts. That the it's just not their primary aim. They just want to be, you know, the, in the perfect position to implement these reef restoration methods. And so we should make it easy for them to do that. So yeah, so a sequel released this really fordable and easily, kind of readily sortable locally kind of local tools and

Matt Waters:

parts. I guess what she caught it and the first thing that comes up is honking great big tanker vessels.

Jennifer Matthews:

That's VA, S, E, C, O R E. Okay, got it. So C Corp doing some incredible work. And that's person. It stands for sexual colour reproduction. It's what it stands for sexual coral reef production. So, yeah, yeah. It's an international nonprofit organisation mostly focused on coral reef conservation, and yard work. And along with these guys, no, no, I wish. No, unfortunately, not. But what I want to do is they, you know, the they do research, they do outreach, they do education, and all in the name of coral reef restoration, right. So that's all values that underlie my research as well in my my career. And so, yeah, I so one of the so that these are these pontoons? Oh, that's the ones that look like a big swimming pool. Yeah, yeah, they do look like paddling pools with a floating paddling pools with a mesh underneath. But that, you know, research in that space has improved over the year. So it's shading them because they were kind of cooking in at first. So now they shade them and making it possible for anybody anywhere around the world to build one of these things is another part of their fundamental goals

Matt Waters:

is literally like a dinghy that's got holes in the side to let the water flow through it.

Jennifer Matthews:

Yeah, so it's like, it's like somebody opening their arms, letting the coral larvae float in and then they close the arms to keep the corals safe inside. And they can keep them in there. And then put settlement devices, which are essentially just like a like a little thermal punch pyramid with points. And then like those can go when they've got settled coral on them and they've grown, they can go back directly onto the roof. And that's kind of given them a coral, spawn a foundation to latch on to and start living, start growing. Yep, start living start depositing no little skeletons and making their association with essential algal symbionts. Algo partners, that's where they can do that. As long as they don't come across opposition and start fighting each other. It does happen. You can get them growing very close together. But if there's from the same species, and it's less likely that you'll find that competition that fleas lovers flicks at hundreds of different species. So

Matt Waters:

how do you how do you write Oscar now at the moment with the storms Allah? How's that going to be impacted everything in Sydney? Sydney, East Coast and it's mental, isn't it? So?

Jennifer Matthews:

I think it's hard to deny that these kind of extreme weather events are happening when you can see like level two years ago, we had fires. Last year, we had floods this year, we have extreme floods. And so yes, unfortunate for all the people who have been impacted by this, and it's devastating isn't ready, absolutely devastating to see on a social and economic and ecological levels on all of those kinds of levels. Yeah, it's devastating to see. So do you think that the increase in massive water is going to have any kind of effect on the local local race of our corals? Yeah, I'm I, but also the storm those waves, so seven waves, we were meant to go diving that day, I'm glad we didn't. We were meant to be going down so that we could take samples from those corals to find out if they're all from the same population, or if they're from different populations. And fortunately, we couldn't get out there because those big waves so I hope they're still there when we go back but so with the influx of rain, there's a few different things that happened, the runoff of water from the land into the ocean carries with it all the nutrients as well as chemicals from that and so and the pollution and that is obviously not very good for a coral reef. So then you'll get then you get algal blooms A few days later and and other bacteria as well that's scoring in the water. Ask anyone who's been swimming recently how there is it were these ear infections and gastroenteritis infections that you're hearing about this all because of this. These you know, normally landlocked chemicals and bacteria proliferate proliferating in the ocean. So, yeah, the on kind of the effects going onward. So I'm sure we will see some unfortunate negative effects. Yeah, yeah. Yep. To the 16 ecosystems and, and as well, as I mentioned, that this got fragile ecosystems like sea grasses. And those waves would destroyed some sea grasses.

Matt Waters:

Hopefully, we're over and done with for a little bit. Yeah, since the subtitle subsided a little bit famous last words. I know. I went out before this, I liked it down a chance words to get some perspective. So picking up some trainers actually for Dave guy. Oh, nice. Yeah, it was just honking down. Same yesterday hanging down and then a little bit of a break today. Like that. That's That's why I was melting when I got back from getting his trainer. Yeah, before it gets to. Yeah, before it gets too wet again. Yeah, yeah.

Jennifer Matthews:

Hopefully, it'll be tidied up over in Thailand as well. It's just been hunkering down over there for the last three days as well. So I was reading. I mean, I'm not a meteorologist, or anything I don't really, like weather systems are beyond my area of expertise. But I was reading. So this is a la Nino year. So coral bleaching events have historically been linked to El Nino events, which is typically bringing warmer currents down. And so those warmer currents are heating up the oceans around coral reefs more than they would normally set. So yeah. So the first one I say it just says extreme warms. Okay. So you get these extreme heat events in marine ecosystems normally, typically associated with El Nino. But this is the first year that we've seen coral bleaching associated with landing. Yeah. And what it was, what this article was saying was that normally would bring cooler currents. But it's what it's happened with the rain. Gosh, this is where I'm really struggling. So but it's happened is that it's warmer currents down here, but they're getting cooler currents in some of the warmer areas. So like some of the lower latitude reefs, or even islands and systems are experiencing cooler than normal waters. And that means that when we've got warmer than normal waters down here, there's a lot more moisture in the air. And then those cooler currents, outs where it should be normally normally warmer. It's driving wind, easterly winds, which is pushing that moisture on to US Eastern Australian shores, and is causing these huge rain events. So as soon as like, it's not it's not something that's specific to Australia and is happening here. This thing is happening, you know, hundreds of miles away, and if it is still causing it ecological effects here

Matt Waters:

I've just found a picture actually global picture

Jennifer Matthews:

showing the the cold water coming up, coming across right away from South America and hit in the shoreline and put me in agony. And it sounds cooler that blue middle kind of mid latitude areas that call water is then making these easterly winds increase which is pushing the moisture above Australia which then creates low pressure. Cool pools. I think he called them like creatures pretty. I like that name.

Matt Waters:

That's it. What's his name? Craig Taylor down in. What's it called down at Bass point, I found his bike Shellharbour he tends to update everybody on the weather patterns that are going on and he's always on about the cold fronts coming down from the north, there will be someone really interested climatologists like somebody who knows about ocean climates and currents and stuff, that would be a really interesting person to talk to. Craig works out of dive shop down in, in Shell harbour and he's he's got to come on the show at some point. But he just said, in the last couple of months, he's been in and out of surgery. God knows how many times now so he's getting himself better before he comes on the show. It'll be good, stronger boy.

Unknown:

So

Matt Waters:

now you've got the money.

Jennifer Matthews:

What's the next step? What's what's, what's kicking off. So yeah, we are overwhelmed to have an extremely grateful and excited to have the the funding from pure ocean for our project. So this it also forms part of my postdoctoral research fellowship, existing postdoctoral research fellowship at UTS. So the research that I will be doing over the next couple of months will be looking at which kind of fat I'm on a fact finding mission, essentially, I want to find the fat that they like the most, that helps them grow quicker and survive fat fit. Fact, now, I'm on a fat finding fit factfinding mission to find the optimal lipid cocktail or fat cocktail fatty cocktail, to feed to the coral larvae. And it has to be one that we can that might offer them some increase in resilience and survival. So it's a very long experiment to do because you have to watch them through to a couple of months so that you can watch their survival array. And this is going to be in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Marine Science seat National Sea simulator up in Townsville, as well as visualising the fats in the coral lipids, some really cool colourful pictures of like, coral Avia about 100 microns, which is like a 10th of a millimetre long. No, that's not right. It's about a millimetre. And your microns, about a millimetre. And, yeah, so these are about a millimetre long. So they're really, really small. So it's very difficult to deceive any difference in them individually. So we visualise them under this amazing microscope facilities offered in by the Max Planck Institute in Bremen, Germany, with who this work will be in collaboration with as well. And yeah, you get to you freed that up can actually see hold all these different fatty cocktails, the effects on the structure and the resilience of these larvae and the subsequent adults. This is cool, cool stuff.

Unknown:

So

Matt Waters:

just to clarify, are you creating, you're not creating new corals or you're not creating steroidal?

Jennifer Matthews:

You're kinda you're just giving them a boost at the start of life? Yeah, yeah, I am giving them a boost at the start of life is exactly right. So that's coral reef reduction. It goes into this massive bottleneck of survivorship. So you get millions of coral larvae produced by a single coral colony, and the moment 1% survive. So what we want to do is expand that bottleneck so that more survive and the work that you know see core and the reef restoration and adaptation programme up in the Great Barrier Reef, some of the stuff that they're doing through that is amazing, and, you know, it's an increase survivorship and it's great what they're doing. They've done a lot of the legwork that would see any success in the project that I'm involved in. So what we are trying to do is improve The success of them more from my feeding side of things. So with human babies if you didn't feed them, not many would survive. But it's exactly the same for coral larvae. And perhaps this is why we have this bottleneck. So can we improve survivorship by providing them with nutrients during those most vulnerable life stages and supporting them in that way? If we've got more baby corals, we've got a built in the ability to rebuild and restore degraded reef areas, increased biodiversity of areas that have lost significant biodiversity as a result of things like coral bleaching events and mass mortality events, or crown of thorns infections. So, so yeah, so the whole this is a reef restoration initiative. This is to go. And as I was saying earlier, this is going from a research at an at molecular scales, you know, lipid interactions and stuff. And cellular biology is going from that to actual impactful reef restoration. And this is initiatives and that's the essential pathway that yeah, it says it's an essential pathway to actually buying corals time and helping them potentially survive changing climates.

Matt Waters:

So another question I've been burning to ask is, if you if you take an a location, I'm thinking back to my time in Papua New Guinea, take a location that's overfished. Yes. And the corals die off this fat finding wishing that you're doing now with a positive outcome, could you actually regrow or restart a coral reef if has been overfished? Yeah, absolutely. I mean, fish, and, and all these,

Jennifer Matthews:

you know, entire coral reefs. As I said, these shopping centres are the only works if you get customers coming to buy the reefs, buy the, the items in the shops, and think of the fish as being those customers. So you need customers, you need fish to support coral reefs. And just as the coral reefs support fish populations, so you need one without, and one as well as the other. So. But if you rebuild reef, degraded reef areas, the fish will come back quite quickly. They're much, much easier for a fish to swim back into a reef than a coral to go and find a fish. Exactly. Yes. So yeah, so we, I think we would see an increase in the fish that were lost from degraded reef areas, we would see those re establishing. And that's the ultimate aim, isn't it to re establish and rebuild functional ecosystems, functional coral reefs. And then hopefully, that's where legislation can play a big role in managing the resources that marine areas provide, like, making sure we manage fish stocks and fishing activities.

Matt Waters:

But did die in Indonesia a few years ago?

Jennifer Matthews:

It's worked very well, I think, Indonesia or Philippines where they do. I can't remember the country. Forgive me guys, whoever's listening, but they they close off particular locations for a period of I think it's about three years. Okay. I'm not allowed to fish it. Yeah, that's great. But then they did that in Thailand, they closed the beach, the beach, in Phuket. And they, within weeks saw shark populations coming back to the island. So shows you how if given the chance, yeah, remove the humans, you can if I'll be temporarily or reduce human interaction and interactions and you would be able to coral Oh, sorry, marine ecosystems and other ecosystems would be able to rebuild.

Matt Waters:

I don't know how much detail you want to get into but the link between corals and human existence. It's a heavy one.

Jennifer Matthews:

As in evolution, there really are. Well, if all corals die, let's let's kind of go down that route. It depends who you listen to. But if all corals die, yeah, that would ultimately lead to probably the death of the oceans. Yeah, yeah. So yeah, I imagine certainly, beyond recognition changes beyond recognition. 25% of marine life rely on coral reefs as a source of protection. or perhaps living space or a source of food. And so that's 25% of marine organisms gone if you lose coral reefs, or they have to find something alternative, and then that affects other marine ecosystems, right? So if you lose calories, and then you lose that 25% of marine life that rely on it, what about the other 75% that rely on the fish that live on coral reefs for source of food, and that's when you see the destabilisation of entire reef to entire ecosystems. And it would be catastrophic. Yeah.

Matt Waters:

So what we've got at the moment is the tiny scientist team, hopefully, recreating or bolstering those corals that are there already. And oh, I say, the Great Barrier Reef over itself, is that a? Is that a real thing? Or is it?

Jennifer Matthews:

So it's hard to it's, you know, it's one of those sort of those unknown questions at the moment that we are we gonna see a great barrier reef off the coast of Sydney in the next five years now? Probably not. But might this the mechanisms of this subtropical coral already coming down to a temperate area and surviving temperate regions? That's also unexpected. Not only that, but these fish that are associated with it and the crabs that are associating it are overwintering, which means surviving winter, which is, again, was unpredicted. So, potentially, we may see more species following suit and seeking refuge in Sydney or in coastal New South Wales and, and, and higher latitudes. But there are stories and high latitude reefs in Japan, for example, that aren't so positive. And don't aren't, don't bode well for the existing ecosystems. So it's not an answer. I really, really want to stabilise and rebuild existing systems, not renew, relocate them. Yeah.

Matt Waters:

I just, it's something that crosses my mind every now and then. Because, you know, if you think rather than thinking in, you know, couple of couple of years, 510 15 years, whatever, if we managed to sort it all out, and we pass the 2050 mark, and everything's tickety boo, the world as she is on her own changes, and in 234 100 years down the line. Yes, I can imagine there's a real possibility of, you know, what we know is that GBR now migrating. Yeah, yeah, to 300 years. So yeah, I would expect to see some difference in the range of the Great Barrier Reef or existence, great ferry.

Jennifer Matthews:

Don't know if humans would be here in two 300 years? I'm not sure either know, the current, you know, rate of climate changing impacts?

Matt Waters:

Well, I'm not going to be so

Jennifer Matthews:

I lost my daughter. Yeah.

Matt Waters:

Okay. So if people want to help out how they're going to help out with, with your research, oh, help out with, you can help

Jennifer Matthews:

protect reef systems from your home. So making informed decisions about the fish that you eat is a really easy way to help sustain fish. And, you know, the associated ecosystems, fish populations and the associated ecosystem. So the MSC, that little blue fish symbol for the Marine Stewardship Council symbol on fish that you select at supermarkets is a really easy way to protect. And you know, that's not, that's not, that's not to get confused with the dolphin friendly symbols. It's actually the same kind of same thread. So for example, so dolphin friendly ones would be sustainable fish practices, which is what the Marine Stewardship Council support. So that's essentially any fish with that blue symbol that blue and white fish symbol on it has been sustainably caught. And that means it preserves future fish populations. So that's a really important way and really easy way to make informed and a consumer contribution to the future of marine ecosystems. So that's one way. suncream is something that I've not really touched on, but it's another really, really easy way for people to do To protect coral reefs, so, some cream is a chemical. And if you put some cream on, you jump straight in the water. First of all, it washes off straight off you straight away and offers you no protection. But it also is leaching all those chemicals straight into the reef or into the marine area that you are in killing, killing corals and marine. Sorry, suncream does harm corals. So that's another way. And plastics is plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats of our time. Recent study by University of Newcastle showed that we eat a credit cards worth of plastic a week, which I don't know about you, but doesn't sound too tasty. So making responsible decisions about plastic for example, we reducing reusing recycling, that that you do use the so many compostable options nowadays. And one of the biggest factors of that is the clothing industry. So 33% of marine microplastics come from washed clothing. So making important decisions about the clothing that you buy, reducing the clothing that you buy or, or buying recycled clothing, that kind of thing. Those are all really, really easy, everyday ways to get involved in coral conservation. But to more directly get involved, then you can attend local bleep beach cleanup events, they're run most speeches, often My name is they're not start your own, then really easy to do, you grab a bag, and you walk up on the beach, and you pick up rubbish. So that's a really cool way. And as well, you sent to find some amazing, interesting items. And to directly get involved in research is also possible. It's often you know, we have volunteers who come to help us with research projects. Financial support is always required. But you know, I'd much rather give someone an experience in it, then. You know, the whole funding side of it, but certainly getting involved in citizen shots, citizen science initiatives, like the Australian microplastics assessment project, oz map, they are awesome. And they do some amazing citizen science programmes, monitoring microplastics on Australian beaches. So there are a number of citizen science projects out there visiting when you're on holiday visiting sustainable or eco touristic places, right as operators say, Yeah, operators, like Big Blue conservation. Yeah, making an informed decision about where you're going and the kind of weather the tourism operator or hotel or whatever, and that you get resort that you're going to have sustainable practices in mind, there might be a new sustainable one rocking up on some of the old Cadillac in the future. Yeah, so it's really, really, there are ways that people get involved so that it becomes less out of sight and more and less out of mind. And it is, you know, ingrained in your everyday decisions. It's really easy to do.

Unknown:

And it's

Matt Waters:

something that we might be able to put into, yeah, become a scientist. I haven't got the brains to do it. But maybe we can put the link in the show notes to maybe a couple of pictures of those corals, keeping your eyes out for and, you know, because we've got a lot of divers, especially around Sydney and going further south into Melbourne. And we can, you know, if they if they're snapping shots and finding photos, then surely you can let you know where it is. Absolutely, yeah, if you see the coral, there's different

Jennifer Matthews:

kind of some colour different colour morphs, so that don't always go off colour. And as well, colour is really difficult. When you're 10 or 20 metres underwater, the colour obviously changes quite dramatically, so don't go from colour. So but they there is nothing similar to it. So if you see our coral, that it's like a branching mini tree kind of form, then that is probably impossible Operalia or pasilla pourer list you still can't say even after two ways, and it really depends on who you talk to and where they're from. Whether they say pasilla porur, or Pocillopora. But they're the same thing. And it doesn't matter. Everybody out there. It does not matter how you say

Matt Waters:

the same thing. That's fine. We'll get a couple of good pitches and people can get on it. There's a lot of there's a lot of super geeks in insectivores and that kind of thing. They'll be keen as much to jump on that one I think but if it's not close, so there's some really

Jennifer Matthews:

shallow colonies of them in Shelly Bay madly. And I'm sure that elsewhere so yeah, even snorkelers, even if you don't know if any snow days Cobain's? Well, I think we'll round it off for today, Jen, how can people you got your Twitter account all that kind of thing people are following at Tiny scientists. Scientist you can contact me on Twitter is probably the best way but also through email and if you have any questions or any if you want to get involved at all jennifer.matthews@uts.edu.au And any big corporations out there who want to throw 1000s and 1000s into that as well.

Matt Waters:

Jen, it's been an absolute pleasure to have you on the show and my mind is blown. I feel like I've gone back to school.

Jennifer Matthews:

I hope proud in a good way.

Matt Waters:

Thank you so much, Matt. has been my absolute pleasure. We'll keep an eye on what you're doing and you can give us some updates later in the year. Happy days. Thanks for listening, everybody. Bye for now.