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Campus News : December 2012
14 CONNECT :UOW DECEMBER 2012 CONNECT: RESEARCH Tropical cyclones have had a devastating impact on the coral cover of the Great Barrier Reef, according to a University of Wollongong geographer who played a key role in research which shows that half of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral has disappeared in the past 27 years. Over the 214 reef sites monitored for the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) study, coral cover halved from 28 percent to 13.8 percent between 1985 and 2012, with two-thirds of the loss occurring since 1998. The AIMS research paper attributes this decline in coral cover largely to three main disturbances – damage caused by cyclones, crown of thorns CYCLONES DEVASTATING GREAT BARRIER REEF starfish predation and coral bleaching. Of the three, cyclone damage was the most devastating. Dr Marji Puotinen from UOW’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, who specialises in studying damage to the world’s coral reefs caused by tropical cyclones, conducted this aspect of the AIMS study using Geographic Information Science (GIS) techniques to model the likely damage to the reef. “My role in the AIMS study was to model the potential effects of all cyclones that passed near the study sites over the study period 1985 to 2012,” Dr Puotinen said. “This was an important part of the study as cyclones were estimated “This is a very exciting announcement for Stephen and me . . . close to both our hearts, working with young people. It is a tremendous project, and we’ve been working on it for a number of years,” Ms Bird said. She and Mr Jones congratulated UOW for having a successful project in each of the four annual rounds of EIF funding, following the Smart Infrastructure Facility ($35 million), the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials Processes and Devices Facility ($43.8 million) and the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre ($25.1 million). UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings CBE described the announcement as a “red letter day for the University”. “This is a really significant project for the University and for Australia,” Professor Wellings said. “It will be the largest centre in the world for engaging in the process of dealing with social disadvantage.” Professor Wellings said the project will radically transform educational, health and social outcomes for children in regional, rural and remote communities by providing resources for disadvantaged children. “Early Start is the only concrete long term and sustainable proposal that can systemically break the cycle of educational disadvantage,” Professor Wellings said. “It’s a transformational project ... that will create life opportunities for young Australians.” Dr Marji Puotinen from UOW’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, who specialises in studying damage to the world’s coral reefs caused by tropical cyclones. EARLY START TO TARGET EDUCATIONAL DISADVANTAGE Professor Wellings paid special tribute to the Federal Government and its EIF Board for their recognition of the importance of this overall project, Ms Bird and Mr Jones for their support, and to Mr Abbott for his donation and support for the project. He also paid tribute to Dean of Education Professor Paul Chandler, who had driven the project from its outset. He said other bodies that should be acknowledged included the NSW Government’s Department of Family and Community Services, NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC), TAFE Illawarra and the Catholic Education Office. Many early childcare services contributed to the success including Aboriginal Early Childhood Support and Learning, Barnados, Big Fat Smile, Illawarra Area Child Care, Jervis Bay School and many independent services. Bellambi Point Pre School was instrumental in providing a ‘live’ pilot for testing of the capabilities of the project. Professor Chandler was understandably elated by the funding announcement, and predicted that the centre would make a huge impact on the educational prospects of disadvantaged children across NSW. “It is based on one solid view: that every child in Australia deserves the best early start to life,” Professor Chandler said. “Australia has many successes but not every child has had the same opportunities. “This centre will be leading Australia in teaching, research and in community engagement in the early stages of life.” The funding will allow the development of the Early Start Facility to be located on UOW’s main campus. It will include specialist teaching and research spaces, a Children’s Discovery Centre and the hub for Early Start Engagement Centres (ESECs). The facility – due to open in 2015 – will feature a three-level building with a floor area of 9188 square metres. The Children’s Discovery Centre, expected to eventually draw 120,000 children and their families from across Australia a year, will provide more than 2000 square metres of activity/ exhibit space, outdoor exploration courtyards and discovery galleries supported by administrative and technical facilities. The Facility will connect an initial 38 ESECs across NSW. Located primarily in areas of disadvantage, the 38 childcare and community centres are active participants that have significantly contributed to the Facility design and provided the critical geographical reach. It will deliver innovative teaching programs, conduct multidisciplinary research and capacity build communities through targeted parental and family engagement, nutrition and health. The Facility will provide increased educational opportunities for tertiary students in regional, rural and remote areas. The infrastructure will use sophisticated technologies to expand access to, and enable delivery of, new and enriched courses that have a strong labour market demand. “These factors will motivate an increasing number of students across NSW in particular to remain in, or return to, regional locations following completion of their studies,” Professor Chandler said. “Early Start has a bold but simple mission – that is to ensure all young children, their families and communities have the opportunity to be the best they can be.” BG/NH to cause approximately 48% of the observed decline in coral cover.” Dr Puotinen said an indirect modelling approach was necessary for studying cyclones, as the extreme conditions at the height of these tropical storms made direct observations difficult. “These heavy seas cause physical damage to coral reefs, by breaking coral colonies, dislodging them intact from the reef framework, moving sediments and sands which later settle and bury corals, stripping entire slopes of reefs bare of coral, and even removing large chunks of the reef framework itself,” she said. 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