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# On Coral Reefs, Iconic Engineering and Geography at Cambridge

It is 100 years next October since the formation of Australia's Great Barrier Reef Committee in Brisbane in 1922. As part of these celebrations, Professor Tom Spencer and an Anglo-Australian group of researchers has been investigating one of the Committee's great successes, the 1928-1929 Great Barrier Reef Expedition (Spencer et al., 2021).

On 30 August 1929, Maurice and Mattie Yonge, the Expedition's Leader and Medical Officer respectively, finally said good bye to Australia after living and working for 13 months on Low isles, a small island on the northern Great Barrier Reef. The research undertaken there by the Expedition's British and Australian scientists marked the beginning of modern analytical studies of corals and coral reefs. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was also an Anglo-Australian collaboration, being built by Dorman Long of Middlesborough (and based on their design for the 1928 Tyne Bridge). As the Yonges left Sydney Harbour, the arch was in the early stages of construction; the two halves did not meet until 19 August 1930 with the Bridge finally being opened, an exhilarating affirmation of modern Australia, on 19 March 1932.

But there is also link between the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Great Barrier Reef Expedition and the Department of Geography at Cambridge. One of the key players in the building of the Bridge was Arthur Debenham, Principal Assistant Engineer of the Sydney Harbour Trust. Arthur was the older brother of Frank Debenham (1883-1965), the first Professor of Geography at Cambridge (1931). It was Frank Debenham who had secured the 'Geographical Section' of the 1928-1929 Expedition, seeing to the appointment of Alfred Steers (who was to become the second holder of the Cambridge Chair in 1949) as the section leader and thus promoting the first modern geomorphological studies of the Great Barrier Reef.

Spencer T, Brown, B, Hamylton, S, McLean, R 2021 'A close and friendly alliance': biology, geology and the Great Barrier Reef Expedition of 1928-29. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 59, 89-138.

(Photo: C.M. Yonge, National Library of Australia, nla.obj-145038436-1; 30 August 1929)

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# Coasts, Climate Risk and Cambridge

Research by the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit – on coastal flooding risks (with case studies from The Wash and North Norfolk) and wetland responses to both sea level rise and storm surges – is cited in the latest (June 2021) Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk from the Climate Change Committee.

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# Coasts and COP26

Kat Petersen (Imperial College, London, UK)

The CCRU's Ben Evans and Tom Spencer discuss 'the critical coastal zone' in the COP26 Universities Network's Briefing Paper on the role of Earth Observation in delivering a low-carbon, resilient world.

The COP26 Universities Network is a group of more than 55 UK-based universities working together to raise ambition for tangible outcomes from the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference [Glasgow, Scotland, November 2021].

# Defining mangrove fisheries

Singapore mangroves (photo: T Spencer)

Mangrove forests are rich and complex ecosystems that many fish – and fishers – rely on for survival. A new report from Nippon Foundation Nereus Program researchers based in the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU) published on April 21 in the journal PLOS-ONE will help policy-makers tailor mangrove fishery definitions to specific places and situations.

"The actors and their uses or benefits from the mangrove for fishing are much more diverse than is usually communicated, which means it's likely that not all of these uses are recorded or represented when we make management decisions," said Rachel Seary, lead author of the report "It's important that we represent all uses when we make management decisions so that underrepresented groups don't lose out."

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# Living on a coral atoll: What does the future hold?

Graphical abstract: Virginie Duvat et al. (2021)

Sea-level coral atolls, and their populations, are seen as being high vulnerable to global environmental change. But this debate has largely been framed around the single impact of sea level rise and island submergence.

Now an international team, including the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit's Tom Spencer, has analysed the cumulative risk from multiple drivers (sea‐level rise; changes in rainfall, ocean–atmosphere oscillations and tropical cyclone intensity; ocean warming and acidification) to five Habitability Pillars: Land, Freshwater supply, Food supply, Settlements and infrastructure, and Economic activities.

Risks will be highest on Western Pacific atolls which will experience increased island destabilisation together with a high threat to freshwater, and decreased land‐based and marine food supply. But at all locations, risk will increase even under a low emission scenario by the mid‐century, requiring urgent and ambitious adaptation efforts.

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# Environment Agency research overview

The Environment Agency (EA) and DEFRA fund and deliver applied flood and coastal erosion risk management research for all risk management authorities in England and Wales. They also work directly with Universities to provide end-user input to their research projects.

Over recent years the EA have had input to a number of Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU) projects (CBESS, FAST, RISC-KIT), recognising that fundamental research into coastal disaster risk reduction from natural coastal protection is of vital importance.

This latest EA/DEFRA research overview, records the continuation of this collaboration, highlighting the BLUEcoast (item 13.) and CoastWEB (17.) projects, where CCRU is a partner, and particularly RESIST (18.), where CCRU provides project leadership.

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# Super seagrasses

Seagrass and coral, Cuba(photo: K. Teleki, CCRU))

Ellie Wilding (MPhil by research, 2019-2020) writes about flowering plants that live underwater, seagrasses - 'the undercover hero of the sea' -and how they might help combat climate change in the latest issue of 'BlueSci' magazine.

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# Getting a (proper) grip on UK flooding

Professor Tom Spencer takes the government to task on its approach to river flooding, in an article in The Guardian, 'Getting a proper grip on flooding problems'.

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# Biological Extinctions: New Perspectives

Many congratulations to CCRU alumnus, Dr Anna McIvor who has co-edited, with Partha Dasgupta and Peter Raven, ' Biological Extinction: New Perspectives' (CUP, 2019). The book argues that we need to take a wide view of extinction across a range of socio-ecological systems, with chapters from leading thinkers in biology, economics, geology, archaeology, demography, architecture and intermediate technology.

# Predicting Future Oceans

Congratulations to Mike Bithell, Tom Spencer, Rachel Seary and Chris McOwen (our long-term research collaborator at UNEP-WCMC) for their chapters on 'Drivers of fisheries production in complex social-ecological systems' and 'The future of mangrove fishing communities' in the capstone book, 'Predicting Future Oceans'.

The volume celebrates 8 years of the Nippon Foundation Nereus Program, a collaborative research partnership of 18 institutes, including Cambridge Geography, worldwide. Rachel's mangrove chapter stems from one of three PhDs associated with the Program, following Laurens Geffert's 'Improving species distribution models for commercially important marine species on a global scale' and preceding current student Frederique Fardin's 'Climate Change, Mangrove Forests, and Fisheries, in South-East Asia and the Caribbean'.

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