Any coral biologist would jump at the chance to attend a coral reef symposium or dive in the South Pacific, and this summer I got to do both on one trip. I have just returned from Cairns, Australia, host city to the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium, (ICRS,) a conference that occurs every four years. As an early-career Ph.D. student, I had been to smaller national-scale meetings, but ICRS was my first large-scale international meeting solely devoted to coral science. I can honestly say that I will remember ICRS as one of my most stimulating and exciting learning experiences to date. Before the conference began I emailed several professors from other universities whose work pertains to mine to ask them to come to my poster session. By the end of the conference, I had discussed my research with the likes of Drs. Grottoli, Sebens, Dove, Houlbreque, Holcomb, and Ferrier-Pages, to name a few, all of whom are scientists whose work has inspired mine in some way. It was an invaluable experience to talk to my science “idols” and get their advice and constructive criticism on my work. These are scientists whose papers I have been reading for years and have never been able to put a face to a name, so to talk to them in person was a dream come true. One of the other great joys for me at ICRS was watching the talks of fellow RSMAS students such as Remy Okazaki, Rachel Silverstein, Ross Cunning, Xaymara Serrano, Rivah Winter, Quinn Devlin, Dan Holstein, Marc Nadon, and Carolyn Margolin, to name a few. It made me extremely proud to see all of the amazing work being done by my peers, and to see such a strong RSMAS presence at ICRS. Coral reefs are facing a multitude of threats right now, namely bleaching, acidification, habitat degradation, overfishing, and eutrophication among many others, which can make the future of coral reefs seem pretty grim at times. However, being at a meeting with 2,500 other coral scientists who are working every day to learn more about coral reefs instills hope in me for the future of my favorite ecosystem.
After the conference, a group of four other RSMAS grad students and I were lucky enough to travel to Fiji on our way back to the States. For a group of coral biologists, diving in Fiji was absolutely surreal. Just a few steps off the beach of our accommodations on Waya Island was the best snorkeling any of us had ever done in our lives. Coral cover was easily over 100% because of the layers of plating species on top of one another. After doing several dives and countless snorkels, it was clear that the reefs of Waya Island were pristine – with little to no signs of bleaching or degradation. There was definitely lots of talk amongst our group that we should write a grant proposal to come back to study the reefs of Fiji! Since all of us do our research primarily in South Florida where Acroporid species are extremely endangered, it was overwhelming to see huge stands of Acropora on Fijian reefs. Also, the sheer biodiversity of the reef was amazing compared to our Atlantic/Caribbean reefs – we saw more fish, nudibranchs, lobsters, turtles, sharks, eels, and sea stars on one single dive in Fiji than we normally see on multiple dives in Florida. We were also lucky because the season to see Giant Manta rays in Fiji is May-October, so a couple of us got to swim with these beautiful animals, which had been a personal dream of mine for a long time. Overall, the entire trip broadened my horizons as a coral scientist because ICRS gave me the opportunity to hear about the newest research being done in the field and diving in the South Pacific opened my eyes to how a thriving coral reef ecosystem can and should look. Now my task is to use the feedback and inspiration I got at ICRS to improve my research, and to start saving up for the 13th ICRS in Hawaii in 2016!
Graduate Student – Marine Biology & Fisheries
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