Sydney Institute of Marine Science wins $19.5m grant in Budget 09: researchers to tackle threats to Australian coasts and marine ecosystems

Wednesday, 13 May, 2009
Dan Gaffney

Sydney Harbour will be the focus of a world-class marine research program to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing Australian coasts thanks to a $19.5m grant to the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS), announced in Tuesday's 2009 Federal Budget.

SIMS scientists will now have access to state-of-the-art equipment and facilities at its Chowder Bay site to combat threats to marine ecosystems arising from climate change, urbanisation, changing coastlines and marine microbes.

The new grant, from the Government's Education Investment Fund, will be used to set up the first protected marine aquarium and associated research laboratories in southern Australia, along with pumps, research vessels, mobile radar equipment and sophisticated communications equipment.

A cross-disciplinary and multi-institution research facility, SIMS is host to some 55 marine researchers working on issues critical to the sustainable management of coastal and oceanic environments.

The Chowder Bay site, on  Sydney's Harbour's north side, has direct access to clean, high-quality seawater and to the extraordinary diversity of life in the harbour, which is home to some 600 fish species, thousands of invertebrate species, dolphins, fairy penguins and visiting whales.

This major new injection of funds new lift SIMS into a world-class marine centre, according to SIMS Chairman, Professor Frank Talbot: "The new funding will help to transform SIMS into a unique research aquarium facility. It will provide new laboratories for modern molecular and chemical work, increased research training capacity via a research teaching laboratory, and new accommodation for research students and visiting researchers from around the world."

Professor Peter Steinberg, the lead SIMS scientist on the EIF proposal, commented that "SIMS is quite unusual as an institution in being broadly multidisciplinary and collaborative in nature, with chemists, biologists, geologists, oceanographers, social scientists and others all focused on solving the problems of Australia's marine and coastal environment."

"The EIF funds will enhance every aspect of SIMS's research activities and research training," says Professor Steinberg. "It will provide a true communal research home for collaboration among leading marine scientists, a new multi-institutional training for marine scientists, and a one stop shop for policy advice and management consultation to government agencies.

The UNSW Science Dean Professor Mike Archer is delighted with the funding announcement. "Sydney Harbour is the most biologically diverse harbour in the world and we will now have the capacity to understand, among other vital challenges, how to keep it that way on into the future, sustaining itself and the millions of people who depend on the health of the harbour.

"This injection of funds into SIMS, which is a highly innovative inter-institutional initiative that the Faculty of Science has helped to build and continuously supported, comes at precisely the right time. Climate change will impact on the future of every aspect of coastal environments around the world. We need to build the necessary infrastructure to support the growing army of excellent researchers who will help to solve life-threatening problems that confront not only Australia, but the rest of the world. This investment in SIMS will put it firmly on the path to become one of the most successful oceanographic institutions in the Southern Hemisphere."

What the new funding will buy

Aquarium and seawater laboratory:  A protected marine aquarium facility and laboratory facilities - this will be the first of its kind in southern Australia, complementing equivalent tropical facilities at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville. It will be the first Australian facility of its kind merging modern molecular biology and biotechnology with a modern, environmentally realistic, seawater facility.

Aquarium pumps on the naval wharf: New and additional pumps to provide greater capacity and better water quality for research facilities. Also a new reticulated seawater distribution system will provide fresh seawater to all laboratories.

Research training facility: SIMS will expand and upgrade current training and laboratory facilities to a state-of-the-art facility to accommodate 65 people by 2010.

Vessels and vehicles: Two vessels with appropriate berthing systems, including a lifting davit and crane system, will be acquired. The first vessel is a 12m work boat able to travel 30 nautical miles offshore for all aspects of SIMS marine research. The second vessel is a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) with trailer for more restricted estuarine sampling and field work.  It will also acquire two 4WD vehicles for towing the RIB and for transporting coastal geomorphological equipment.

Climate change and geomorphology: Mobile radar equipment and a small surf vessel (jet ski) for the study of shore erosion, inshore coastal waves, current speed, wave surge and climate change inundation.

Computer and communications equipment:  SIMS will acquire equipment for comprehensive computer and communications facilities linking all the institute's offices and laboratories, including high-speed broadband facilities to link SIMS with its member universities and institutions and other e-Research databases.

Security: The SIMS site will acquire new access control, intrusion detection, and CCTV facilities.

About SIMS

SIMS is a partnership between UNSW, Macquarie University, the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney. Wollongong University, the University of Newcastle, the NSW State Government Departments of Primary Industry and Environment and Climate Change, and The Australian Museum are Associate Members. Chowder Bay is part of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, which was established by the Australian Government to plan the future of former Defence and other special Commonwealth lands around Sydney Harbour. The lands contain historic buildings and areas of pristine natural vegetation, magnificent views of the harbour and a record of Sydney's Aboriginal, maritime and defence heritage. Click here to visit the SIMS web site.

About the Education Investment Fund

The role of the EIF is to build a modern, productive, internationally competitive Australian economy by supporting world-leading, strategically-focused infrastructure investments that to transform Australian tertiary education and research. The EIF provides funding for projects that create or develop significant infrastructure in higher education institutions, research institutions and vocational education and training providers. Click here to visit the EIF web site.

Media contacts: Dan Gaffney, UNSW media liaison, 0411 156 015, Peter Steinberg, 0422 048 730