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A Little Bahamian Background

Here, I am taking preliminary measurements on Acropora propagules (fragments that have started to grow on their own). We want to be able to see growth over time, so we will use these measurements as a baseline.

The summer of 2016 marks my second adventure abroad in Abaco, The Bahamas. I say adventure because my 84 days here will not be a vacation, which most consider The Bahamas to be. I am here as a Ph.D.’s assistant and undergraduate researcher conducting my own experiment. So we can already cross out the mental images of lounging on a white sandy beach, getting a lovely tan while holding a fruity beverage, and leisurely reading a best selling novel. In reality, my days are often long, challenging, and filled with extremely hot and humid weather that changes from sunshine to thunderstorms in a blink of an eye. I load and unload equipment 5 times a day, organize, clean, swim, write, read, measure, count, and probably clean more; but I can’t help but love it!

My Ph.D. mentor, Enie Buhler, is a graduate student in Dr. Craig Layman’s lab at NC State. She was originally my TA for my Ecology lab sophomore year, and became my mentor after I pursued voluntary work in her lab. After my first summer of strictly being Enie’s assistant that asked way too many questions and knew nothing about the ecosystems I was working in, I was invited to return this summer with the intention of pursuing an independent project. Her research focuses on human impacts on coral reef systems, so a large portion of our fieldwork is done underwater. Last year I was submerged, literally, in these incredible nearshore systems trying to collect data to answer questions I never thought to think. Therefore, this year I wanted to begin a project that would allow me to return to the reefs and also align with Enie’s research. The prospect of conducting research in water may have also played a minor role because working in water means there are no biting insects (mosquitoes are my arch nemesis). Of course, they are replaced with stinging sessile jellyfish you can’t see and feisty eels that don’t like company.

For my independent project I will be focusing on nearshore coral reef habitats. The first thing to know is that coral reefs are responsible for sustaining abundant and diverse fish populations. Cue the image of beautiful, vibrant corals surrounded by schools of fish, sharks, and turtles we have seen on TV commercial ads and default computer backgrounds. Unfortunately, we are now seeing hard-coral species (coral that is important for reef building) declining due to natural and human impacts. The second thing to know is that many conservation efforts are working to restore coral reefs through a process called coral transplantation. In short, live coral fragments from natural reefs are taken to a place with optimal conditions, such as clear water to absorb maximum light and ample space to grow, and are left to propagate for approximately a year. They are then moved to a permanent location to thrive and establish new reef systems. I will be concentrating specifically on the latter part of the transplantation process, and working with a hard-coral species known as Acropora sp. My next post will go further into my question and what aspects of the permanent location I will be looking at to see their effect on newly introduced Acropora.

Coral Review – learn more about coral transplantation and the species Elisabeth was studying