2019 Recipient – Elizabeth Farnham

The Kevin Smith Memorial scholarship is supporting Elizabeth’s study into how the biodiversity of marine life, specifically sponges on the shallow reefs in Taputeranga Marine reserve will react to rising temperatures and ocean acidity.

Rising water temperatures are a threat to our lovely seaweed. We also know that ocean acidification is a problem for all the sea critters with calcium carbonate shells like mussels and kina, because it is getting more difficult for them to form their protective shells in more acidic sea water. But what about all the cryptic critters that live hiding in the crevices of the reef? How will they react to the changing environment due to global warming?

One often overlooked and understudied creature are sponges, which form an important part of the reef ecosystem. In particular, the calcifying sponges may be particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification as they use magnesium calcite to build their skeleton. Magnesium calcite is similar to calcium carbonate, so just like for kina it might get more difficult for sponges to grow their skeleton when the ocean gets more acidic!

With the support of the scholarship over 1,000 NZD Elizabeth engineered a special experimental system that allowed her to change the temperature and acidity of the sea water in her holding tanks and measure how calcifying sponges react to the changing environment. This experimental set-up was not only used for Elizabeth’s experiment but will be used for future students wanting to investigate the potential impact of climate change on sea critters. Check out the awesome picture of her experiment!

If you like to make a difference and support our scholarships and community education & outreach events in Taputeranga Marine Reserve consider a donation to the Friends of Taputeranga Marine Reserve Trust.

Photos by Elizabeth Farnham & Valerio Micaroni