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Study investigates the effects of climate change on coral eating crown-of-thorns starfish


Brigid Veale
29 October 2015

A Southern Cross University research student, who is investigating the effects of climate change on the coral eating crown-of-thorns starfish, has received a $US10,000 research grant through the WWF (World Wildlife Fund).

Pamela Kamya, from Papua New Guinea, has been studying at SCU’s National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour since 2012 after receiving an AusAID Scholarship.

She was recently awarded the Russell E Train Education For Nature (EFN) 2015 Fellowship grant through the WWF. Russell E Train is the former founder of EFN, and WWF president and chairman.

The fellowships support individuals pursuing a Master or Doctoral degree in conservation. It aims to build local capacity across the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean by empowering individuals to advance marine conservation in their home countries.

This year 24 recipients were selected through a competitive, merit-based process from a pool of 200 applicants. Only two recipients are based in Australia.

Pamela, who completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Papua New Guinea and worked with the PNG National Fisheries Authority, said she was delighted to receive the award.

“My PhD Looks at the effects of climate change on the coral eating crown-of-thorns starfish under the supervision of Dr Symon Dworjanyn from Southern Cross University,” Pamela said.

“This study is important because crown-of-thorns starfish are one of the greatest threats to protected coral reefs within the Indo Pacific Region. It’s important for conservation – we fear that climate change is going to compromise the health of coral reefs but we don’t know the effects it will have on this coral eating predator.

“I anticipate using this grant to continue to publish quality research to increase understanding of the impacts of climate change on this important ecological relationship between coral reefs and the crown-of-thorns starfish.”

Pamela was the lead author of a paper titled ‘Larvae of the coral eating crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci in a warmer-high CO2 ocean’, published in the Global Change Biology Journal.

This study indicated that warmer temperatures and ocean acidification may negatively impact the larval development of crown-of-thorns starfish in low-latitude areas. At the same time, it may enhance the reproductive success of higher latitude populations in areas such as Lord Howe Island.

Pamela, who will return to PNG in mid-2016, said she was excited about the opportunities the grant would provide for marine conservation in her home country.

Dr Dworjanyn said it was a great honour to team with WWF to train future conservation leaders.

“This is great example of how the cutting edge marine science research at Southern Cross University is contributing to the production of the next generation of conservation scientists,” he said.

Photo: Pamela Kamya with a crown-of-thorns starfish.