Booker students study coral health

Six students from Booker High School conducted independent research on climate change and ocean acidification, which are major threats to coral reef ecosystems, through a science education program launched this summer in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory.

The week-long program at Mote’s Tropical Research Laboratory on Summerland Key allowed the students to join scientists from around the world at the lab’s testing facility that is focused on ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification occurs when oceans absorb excess carbon dioxide from man-made sources, such as fossil fuels in the atmosphere, making the pH of seawater lower, or more acidic.

The chemistry change can make it more difficult for marine life to form and maintain calcium-rich structures like the skeletons of corals or the shells of many commercially important shellfish.

Mote’s Ocean Acidification Program has been studying the process using a special seawater system that can be adjusted to different levels of acidity that scientists have predicted for the near future.

The research setup made the perfect training ground for Booker students who are learning about marine science.

“They jumped in head-first,” Dr. Emily Hall, manager of Mote’s Ocean Acidification Program, said in a prepared statement. “They snorkeled around and learned how to collect samples and how we as scientists identify marine life.”

With the help of their Mote mentors, the students set up a “mesocosm” study that mimicked a natural coral reef ecosystem in the laboratory under controlled conditions.

Each student’s project focused on the impact of ocean acidification on a particular animal or plant within the larger community.

Their results are currently under review by Mote scientists.

Herald Tribune, 17 July 2013. Full article.

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