Students Staff

24 May 2012

Public invited to help vital coral reef research

Colchester Campus

Coral Reef Research Unit

Scientists at Essex are inviting the public to join them for a unique experiment which could have a real impact on the future of the world’s coral reefs.

As highlighted in the current BBC Two series Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve, the world’s idyllic coral reefs – which support the livelihoods of over half a billion people − are under threat.

A unique project being launched in London this weekend is inviting all aquarists – from the keen amateur with a small fish tank in their home to major public aquariums – to help leading coral reef experts in the UK to find out more about the future survival of these natural wonders.

Called ‘The Big UK Experiment’, this is the first experiment of its kind and will involve thousands of reef keepers becoming part of the research team at the University of Essex by allowing data acquired from their own reef tanks to be used in the research projects run at the university. The project, involving the Coral Aquarist Research Network (CARN), the University of Essex and social network site MarineMad, is being launched at the Zoological Society of London on Saturday.

The University’s Coral Reef Research Unit is a flagship for UK and international coral research and boasts a unique special aquarium facility which includes different tanks which can have their environments manipulated to mirror, past, present and future climates. The research focuses on how the environment regulates coral growth – from light and temperature to CO² and nutrient levels. Combining this data with how future reef environments will change is a critical step in predicting what will happen to coral reefs in the future.

Pippa Mansell, from the University, said: “The Big UK Experiment will offer the unique opportunity for reef keepers to share their vast amount of knowledge with the academic community and use this knowledge to help answer key questions within this research area. To have reef keepers involved in the huge variety of research projects that the Coral Reef Research Unit and the University of Essex is running is just fantastic, it is a huge step forward in terms of increasing the collaborative opportunities between academics and industry.”

Aquarists will be able to share their knowledge with the scientists via a free iPhone App, which lets them give detailed information about how different corals are affected in different environments, which can then be replicated in the laboratory. The data from their reef tanks will be fed into a national database and then used to assist coral reef researchers in answering key questions within many fields of coral reef research.

“Reef keepers have a huge amount of knowledge and we really felt we would be missing a trick if we did not tap into this and ask them to get involved in our research. This is a great opportunity for the public to get involved in research,” added Pippa.


Note to Editors

For more information please contact the University of Essex Communications Office on 01206 872400 or e-mail
‘The Big UK Experiment’ is being held Saturday 26 May, 11am-3pm, Huxley Theatre, Zoological Society London (ZSL), Regents Park. For more information please e-mail: Pippa Mansell on

...more news releases