Rescue a Reef Update

130813_112247_054_CoralRestoration Coral reef with out planted stag horn corals.

It’s been over 2 years since Dr. Diego Lirman’s Benthic Ecology Lab at RSMAS began outplanting nursery reared staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis) to degraded reefs as part of one of the largest Acropora restoration projects along the Florida Reef Tract. Today, those corals are making a significant impact on the structure and function of Miami’s reefs.

The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science began growing colonies of the threatened staghorn coral in underwater nurseries starting with only 200 small fragments collected from existing wild colonies. To date, UM’s nurseries have produced over 6,000 healthy corals. Beginning in 2012, over 2,500 staghorn corals were carefully transplanted to their new homes on local reefs in Miami-Dade County. Over 85% of outplanted corals have survived to become part of the natural habitat and have grown to equal 243 meters of new staghorn! That is over 603% more coral than was originally outplanted! This is a significant increase in the number of Acropora colonies on local reefs and will help bridge spatial gaps between existing populations to enhance sexual reproduction and genetic diversity.The Benthic Ecology Lab has learned valuable lessons from their initial restoration success and has developed methods and techniques to increase the survival and growth of outplanted corals. In addition, important informtion about nursery and outplant site selection, growth and productivity variation between genotypes, effects of predation, and recovery from bleaching have been investigated to provide researchers and managers with essential conservation tools for the recovery of threatened staghorn corals.

–Stephanie Schopmeyer, Senior Research Associate II, Lirman Lab

N In Plot 3 P46 Initial size of staghorn coral fragment outplanted in 2012 (5 cm)

IMG_1360-1 Growth of staghorn coral two years after outplanting onto local reef (390 cm)

UM coral scientist studies at Centre Scientifique de Monaco

As I write this blog, I am looking out the window at the famous Port Hercule in Monaco and see all of the beautiful yachts and racing sailboats.  And the best part is – I’m in my office!  Allow me to back-track: I am a 5th year Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Chris Langdon’s lab here at RSMAS.  I study indicators of resilience to climate change stressors in Florida Reef Tract corals.  Two years ago I met Dr. Christine Ferrier-Pages at the International Coral Reef Symposium.  Christine is the director of the Coral Eco-physiology team at the Centre Scientifique de Monaco (CSM), and I have admired her work on coral feeding for years.  By maintaining contact with her after we met at the conference, and through another colleague of Chris Langdon’s at a French university, I was offered the opportunity to participate in a seven-week collaboration in Christine’s lab in Monaco.  Together, we are studying the combined effects of nutrient enrichment (eutrophication), coral feeding, and elevated temperature stress on coral growth and physiology.  The lab facilities here are unparalleled, and it is truly an honor and a privilege for me to complete the last chapter of my dissertation at this institution.

View of Port Hercule in Monaco

View of Port Hercule in Monaco

Here’s a little history about CSM: it was founded in 1960 at the request of Prince Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, to provide the Principality of Monaco with the means of carrying out oceanographic research and to support governmental and international organizations responsible for the protection and conservation of marine life.  Since the late 1990s, the CSM has been a leader in coral reef biology, specializing in biomineralization research and climate change effects on corals.  The ocean and the issues surrounding it have always been on the forefront of causes important to the royal family of Monaco.  In addition to the CSM, Monaco also boasts an extensive oceanography museum and aquarium which draws international attention.

So what has it been like to work here so far?  One thing I have found a little challenging is learning to run an experiment in another language.  While most of the researchers here speak English (their publications are normally submitted in English,) French is their native language and is most commonly spoken in the lab.  I speak conversational French pretty well, but I have to learn basic experiment terms in French; words like tubes, flow rate, and probe, to name a few, were all new to me in the French language.

For now, my post-work view is the Mediterranean Sea, but I know in a few weeks a sunset view overlooking Biscayne Bay from the Wetlab patio will be calling my name…

Until then,

Erica Towle, Ph.D. Candidate, Marine Biology and Ecology

 

Connecting Fish and Corals

A new study by UM Rosenstiel School researchers tracked the dispersal of coral and fish larvae on Caribbean reefs and found that fish populations are generally a more interconnected, cohesive unit on reefs than coral populations, with a few exceptions. The UM Rosenstiel School-led study is the first-of-its-kind to use a numerical modeling approach to address connectivity – the exchange of offspring and larvae between geographically disconnected populations – for multiple species with very different life histories.

Trunkfish in the Dry Tortugas. Photo Credit: Jiangang Luo/ UM RSMAS

Trunkfish in the Dry Tortugas. Photo Credit: Jiangang Luo/ UM RSMAS

Understanding connectivity is important for the management of species and networks of marine protected areas. Connectivity enhances resilience of the ecosystem to harmful events, such as bleaching, overfishing and hurricanes, by providing new recruits from distant locations to the damaged reefs.

“The study was motivated by the complexity of conservation efficacy for coral reef ecosystems that are composed of so many different species,” said Rosenstiel School Professor Claire Paris, corresponding author of the paper. “Larval connectivity models contribute valuable information for the protection of marine habitats, especially as the potential for further reef fragmentation and other physical changes to the environment alter both the habitat and the biology of coral reef organisms and their larvae.”

Using the Connectivity Modeling System (CMS), a Rosenstiel School open source numerical model developed in Paris lab, the study tracked larval exchange between more than 3,200 reef areas in the Caribbean for five different species of fish and coral over a five-year period. The researchers found that fish populations are generally more connected than coral populations, with the exception of reef-building corals, which share similar connectivity dynamics for some specific Caribbean regions. For these regions that were identified thanks to high-computing techniques, management can be similar for all species and reef conservation may rely on regional connectivity networks.  This is not the case for other regions that require more species-specific management practices, typically at more local levels as well.

Elkhorn Coral  Photo Credit: NOAA

Elkhorn Coral
Photo Credit: NOAA

The study was published as a Special Feature article in the March 3, 2014 issue of the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. The paper’s authors include: UM alumni Daniel Holstein, currently a post-doctoral research associate at the University of the Virgin Islands’ Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, and well-known reef ecologist Peter Mumby.

RSMAS Science Highlights of 2011

RSMAS was a busy place for cutting-edge science this year. Here’s a look back at the top research studies that made headlines in 2011 and the latest science and education from Virginia Key and beyond.

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag’s study of one hammerhead shark’s lone journey to New Jersey made headlines in early 2011 as did Dr. Lisa Beal’s ongoing research on the Agulhas Current and its link to global change change.

Coral reefs made news this year, including from a newly published study by Dr. Diego Lirman that showed Florida’s reefs cannot endure a ‘cold snap’ and from a study of Papua New Guinea reefs by Dr. Chris Langdon that suggests ocean acidification may reduce reef diversity.

 

Before the year closed, Dr. Shimon Wdowinski presented a new study at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco that showed tropical cyclones could trigger earthquakes.

RSMAS scientists and student were part of many new and ongoing research expeditions. Researchers and students from RSMAS joined an international team on a six-month field campaign in the Indian Ocean, known as DYNAMO. They are studying how tropical weather brews over the region and moves eastward along the equator, with reverberating effects around the entire globe. Follow the ongoing work from the scientists.

Meanwhile, it was a busy end of the year for Lisa Beal and her research team who embarked on a month-long expedition to the waters off of South Africa to understand how one of the world’s strongest ocean currents – the Agulhas Current – is both affected by climate change and also has an effect on climate change.

On the academic side of RSMAS life, the Masters of Professional Science program was in full swing this year and the newly acquired Broad Key Research Station welcomed its first cohort of students to study the coral reef ecosystems of the Florida Keys. Finally, joint degrees in law and marine affairs was launched at UM to provide students with a unique educational opportunity to tackle environmental issues.

As 2011 comes to a close, RSMAS faculty, researchers and students are looking forward to another busy and exciting year in 2012 filled with new scientific discoveries and educational opportunities.

Tell us about your research plans for 2012.

Oyster stuffing and other Thanksgiving traditions

When you think of Thanksgiving dinner does turkey and green bean casserole or oysters and shrimp cocktail come to mind? What you may not realize is that early celebrations to give thanks for a bountiful harvest included oysters and seafood among its traditional dishes. Today, oyster stuffing, shrimp cocktail, crab and even smoked fish dip still have a place alongside (or inside) the traditional turkey and green beans on many dinner tables.

If your Thanksgiving menu includes seafood this year, choose sustainably.  There are several free sustainable seafood guides that can become your personal shopping assistant. The most popular, Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch Guide, is available as a smart phone app as is the Blue Ocean Institute’s FishPhone. Another reference guide is NOAA’s FishWatch Facts, which also provides information on the national standards that goes into sustainable seafood assessments.

What determines a fish’s sustainability is a complex formula that takes into account, among other things, current fish population levels and how effective management measures are in preventing overfishing and population declines. This assessment starts with good science.

Lucky for us, much of this good science is being done here at RSMAS. There are many RSMAS scientists working to collect the fishery population data and management that can be used to determine sustainability assessments.

If you want to learn more about how the science collection process works, check out the research being done by Dr. Jerry Ault and team in the Fisheries Ecosystem Modeling and Assessment Research (FEMAR) group and researchers studying fishery management, fish population dynamics and aquaculture.

What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

— Annie Reisewitz

Follow Annie on Twitter @annelore

Florida Sharks Breathe a Sigh of Relief

“They will live to swim another day,” is how RSMAS graduate student Austin Gallagher summed up the move this week by Florida officials to ban several shark species from being fished out of state waters.

Science is critical to ensure effective environmental policies and Austin and Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, RSMAS’ resident shark expert and assistant professor at the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science & Policy, demonstrated how to make that happen. Over the last year they supplied critical scientific data to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that revealed tiger and hammerhead sharks are quickly disappearing from Florida waters and needed protection before it’s too late.

Scientists estimate that northwest Atlantic shark populations have declined by over 80% in the last two decades. The reason why tiger and hammerheads are so vulnerable, according to Neil, is because of their low reproductive rates. They are slow to mature, not reaching maturity until around 10 years old, and only giving birth ever three years.

Neil points out that current tiger and hammerhead shark population’s levels are vastly different between Florida and the Bahamas. He believes this is due to the proactive conservation laws in the Bahamas, where shark fishing and longline fishing, which takes a large number of sharks as accidental bycatch very year, are banned.

Austin, a second-year Ph.D. student, said the new Florida law will also give a boost to sharks across the greater Caribbean and rest of the southeast Atlantic as well. In conjunction with the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program is studying which shark species are most vulnerable to overexploitation. He believes this new law demonstrates that the wildlife commission realizes the need to protect the ocean biodiversity.

The new measures, which goes into effective Jan. 1, 2012, prohibits the harvest, possession, sale and exchange of tiger sharks and great, scalloped and smooth hammerhead sharks harvested from state waters. RSMAS shark researchers showed how scientific information is critical to ignite government action.

Read more about this new shark law here.

— Annie Reisewitz
Follow Annie on Twitter @annelore