E-news Issue 4
Monday, 07 June 2021
Charles Darwin University
E-news
Researchers at Charles Darwin University and the University of Technology Sydney will investigate the role of marine heatwaves on Vibrio bacteria outbreaks and their impacts. Pictured: CDU Professor Karen Gibb
Researchers at Charles Darwin University and the University of Technology Sydney will investigate the role of marine heatwaves on Vibrio bacteria outbreaks and their impacts. Pictured: CDU Professor Karen Gibb

As the ocean warms, a microscopic threat is blooming

Scientists from Charles Darwin University and UTS are joining forces under a new ARC Discovery Project to study the impacts of potentially dangerous underwater bacteria that have a preference for warm water.

Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney and Charles Darwin University have been awarded a $599,000 Australian Research Council Discovery Project over three years to investigate the role of marine heatwaves on Vibrio bacteria outbreaks and their impacts on public health, the resilience of temperate corals, and disease outbreaks in oyster hatcheries.

Dr Sam NowlandAquaculture Research Scientist at the NT Government’s Darwin Aquaculture Centre (DAC) on Channel island is part of the research team and this project is one of several research collaborations between CDU and DAC.

The project will build upon several years of collaboration between chief investigators Professor Justin Seymour and Associate Professor Maurizio Labbate of UTS, and Professor Karen Gibb who leads the Environmental Chemistry and Microbiology Unit at Charles Darwin University.

Through the Discovery Project, the team hopes to deliver real-world coastal management and economic outcomes that support the health of Australia’s coastal communities and growing aquaculture industry.

Increasingly frequent marine heatwaves are making graveyards of Australia’s once vibrant coral reefs, mangroves and kelp forests as seawater temperatures around our island continent increase at four times the global average.

Emerging evidence has revealed a more insidious threat - that rising ocean temperatures may favour the spread and growth of a group of pathogenic marine bacteria, known as Vibrio, which can have negative impacts on both human and marine ecosystem health.

Professor Justin Seymour, who leads the Ocean Microbes and Healthy Oceans team at the UTS Climate Change Cluster and is the lead Chief Investigator on the project said vibrio are a group of bacteria that have a preference for warm water.

“As marine heat-wave events occur more frequently and with greater intensity, we’re expecting to see blooms of these potential pathogens, and we currently lack information about how this might impact human and environmental health.”

For Charles Darwin University Professor Karen Gibb, the project’s team will help increase understanding of Vibrio in Australia’s northern waters, especially for the artisanal harvest of oysters and snails, and to support future aquaculture enterprises.

“In Northern Australia, we are in a sense, the scouts of climate change, because we already have warmer temperatures,” Professor Gibb said.

“We know so little about baseline Vibrio bacteria in our waters and implications for human and animal health so this project is really important.”

Associate Professor Maurizio Labbate UTS School of Life Sciences said this is an important issue in Australia as aquaculture is one of our fastest growing industries.

He said that in order for the industry to grow further, research needs to solve the unexplained crashes in oyster larvae production, which can last for up to half the year.

“Understanding how marine heat waves might impact potential pathogens like Vibrio is vital if we want to make the industry sustainable,” he said.