A heavy rain at Baie des Citrons for several days, and the fresh water pouring into the sea can slightly alter its salinity. Enough to disturb the coral growing in the bay.
Charles, studying aquariology in Nouméa, is conducting research at IRD — New Caledonia’s research and development institute — and at the Aquarium des Lagons at Nouméa. He works alongside other researchers, which include Andy Wright, Koniambo Nickel’s Environment Supervisor:
“Our ultimate objective is to be able to identify a threshold for activities in and effluent into a natural environment that we could use as control indicators to monitor the impact of our industry on coral. Regulations already exist, but we have decided to do more than what is required.”
At present, the measurement of coral growth in a marine environment is being done at Koniambo Nickel’s site. This work can generate a considerable volume of data, but it also mobilises considerable resources for indicators deemed insufficient (coral growth is only one among its many health indicators).
During his studies, therefore, Andy focussed his research on creating new “ways to measure and control” coral health.
Some coral samples, collected from their natural setting, are soaking in tubs that resemble aquariums connected by tubes. This permits observing how coral responds at the various stages of the experiment. The research is two-pronged: on the one hand it monitors the injection of heavy metals into the water to determine the point at which the accumulation of nickel becomes lethal. It also simulates climate change by gradually increasing the water temperature.
“Coral is a fascinating organism — an animal that lives in perfect symbiosis with microalgae that thrive in its biological structure: the zooxanthellae. Under stress, coral loses its zooxanthellae, whitens and dies.”
By following a precise experiment methodology, Andy carries out the suite of necessary tests, with the last phase being the direct observations at the Koniambo Nickel site.
Ultimately, in addition to definite advances in scientific knowledge, his work will enable Koniambo Nickel to obtain better quality data at a lower cost.