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Corporate Social Responsibility

University of Essex Coral Reef Research Project

The Coral Reef Research Unit

Nikon Instruments UK is proud to support the Coral Reef Research Project based at the University of Essex, also supported by Mitsubishi Group.  As a responsible company, Nikon is committed to protecting the global environment and to monitoring its impact on the natural environment, including issues related to climate change and biodiversity and we are delighted to be supporting this project.

Dr Philippe Laissue of the University of Essex in the UK leads on imaging-based studies of corals. The emphasis of his approach is on quantitative live imaging of the main constituents of a coral, with observation having a minimal impact. He uses Nikon equipment such as the A1R confocal microscope with spectral detection and resonant scanning, and a Nikon Ti-E widefield, as well as developing a bespoke system. The goal is to advance the understanding of coral development, and the effect the environment has on it. It is expected that findings from these high-resolution studies can be linked to field work, and used to inform and optimise conservation strategies. Dr Laissue is director of the bioimaging facility at the University of Essex.

Prof David Smith of the University of Essex in the UK leads a partnership between Mitsubishi corporation, the University of Essex, and Earthwatch Europe, collecting data on the biodiversity and health of the coral reefs and mangroves in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Seychelles. He is research director for Operation Wallacea, a global NGO. In this role, he steers research within the Hoga Marine research facility located within the mega biodiversity hotspot of the Wakatobi Biosphere Reserve, in collaboration with the Indonesian government. He is the Director of the Coral Reef Research Unit at the University of Essex.

As partners in research with the University of Essex, Nikon UK support this research further by providing long-term loans of equipment. Combined with funding from research councils, this enables the development of bespoke instrumentation for live coral imaging.


Background information

Why focus on Coral Reefs? The most biodiverse marine ecosystem, a system that supports the economic and food requirements of over ½ billion people, a system with a net value of $375 billion, a natural seawall defense reducing the coastal impact of storm and tidal surges, the home to many, as yet undiscovered, pharmaceutical products and a unknown number of species - these are just some of the reasons why coral reefs are considered to be amongst the world’s most important ecosystems - but they are also amongst the most threatened.

The predicted fate of reefs: Numerous factors threaten to destroy reefs including overexploitation, reduced water quality, physical destruction and climate change. More than 60% of the world’s reefs are in severe decline; all but the most remote reefs will be impacted in the next 50 years, with some researchers claiming that all reefs will disappear by 2050. This is a time scale over which the levels of dependency of local communities on reef resources is expected to double. Science needs to address these issues, but without fundamental knowledge of the underlying biology, it is unlikely that we as a global society will devise the best and most appropriate management strategies that are aimed at protecting reefs for future generations.

Knowledge Gaps: There is an immense gap in our understanding of the biology of reef forming corals. Much effort has recently focused on the “omics revolution” and detailed molecular-based research that provide important insights into the way corals function. Other research continues to focus on the degradation of reefs and evaluating the implications of climate change for reef vitality. But whereas some science has leapt forward, many fundamental questions have been left unanswered. For instance it is quite remarkable that we still know little about the fundamental mechanisms and structures of growth and have no standard growth model for corals. This is despite the fact that coral growth, in terms of rates and architectural complexity, underpins the most important services provided by reefs, e.g. food and economic security.

View CRRU website

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