Mote hosts 2nd international workshop on impacts of ocean acidification and climate change on corals

The 2nd International Workshop on Impacts of Ocean Acidification and Climate Change on Coral Reefs was co-hosted by Mote Marine Laboratory and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences (IUI) of Eilat, Israel. The Workshop took place at Mote’s Tropical Research Lab in Summerland Key, Fla. from Aug. 25 – Sept.1, 2015 and brought together participants from Cuba, Israel, Jordan, Italy, Guam, the U.K. and the U.S.

The workshop allowed international scientists to collaborate in creating an ocean acidification experiment that is kicking off this month at Mote’s Keys facility.

Ocean acidification (OA) is one of the greatest global threats to coral reef ecosystems. OA refers to the chemical reactions when carbon dioxide (CO2) is absorbed by seawater. This causes a water chemistry change often called the “osteoporosis of the sea” because it is expected to weaken and even dissolve calcium carbonate structures such as coral skeletons and mollusk shells, and it may affect a wide array of other marine animals and ecosystems.

Research has shown that corals under increasingly acidic ocean conditions are more susceptible to “bleaching.” Coral bleaching occurs when corals become stressed due to high-temperature water and the symbiotic algae they depend on for some of their food leave the corals’ tissue. Without their symbiotic algae, corals appear white in color, and this bleaching can eventually lead to coral death. Ocean acidification can also lead the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral to dissolve, causing destruction of coral reefs themselves.

“Passion for marine science and our partnerships with other institutions around the world have been primary pillars for Mote Marine Laboratory over our 60 year history that enable Mote to have a global impact on conservation and sustainable use of our shared marine environment,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President and CEO of Mote. “Mote and the Inter-University Institute for Marine Science in Eilat, Israel, were pleased to co-host their 2nd International Workshop on Ocean Acidification Impacts to Coral Reefs, which fostered collaborative efforts among a diverse, international group of scientific experts to study Florida Keys coral reefs’ resilience to ocean acidification and the potential for successful restoration of corals under declining ocean pH levels that can be applied to other ecosystems around the world.”

Dr. Emily Hall, Mote Staff Scientist and Manager of the Ocean Acidification Program, shared the same enthusiasm for the workshop.

“Ocean acidification is a real, global issue that is happening right now and there are many reasons for concern,” Hall said. “We depend on our marine ecosystems for food, economy, medicine, tourism, art and quality of life. The impacts of ocean acidification are potentially detrimental to some of these things and the need for a solution to this problem is greater now than ever.”

The OA Program started at Mote with a small indoor OA system located at Mote’s Summerland Key facility. From there, the Program added an outdoor system in the Summerland Key facility and an indoor system in Mote’s main Lab in Sarasota. After three OA workshops that Mote held in Sarasota (2012-2013) and one OA workshop in Israel with Dr. Maoz Fine at the IUI (2013), Mote scientists applied for a National Science Foundation (NSF) facilities grant to build upon the system in the Keys. Mote was awarded the NSF facilities grant for 2014/2015 and is currently making finishing touches on the system.

“The impact of OA on coral reefs is significant and this workshop presents a good opportunity to learn more about these pressing issues. This partnership with Mote is important, because what is happening in the coral reefs here is associated with what is happening with coral reefs in Cuba. In Cuba, we don’t have the right resources to conduct this type of research. We can exchange knowledge and resources here at the workshop to make a difference,” said Pedro Alcolado Prieto Marine Biologist at Instituto de Oceanologia in Cuba.

“Ocean acidification is the hottest topic for coral reef researchers, because it is a major environmental concern. It is my goal to learn as much as possible during this workshop and work in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory, which is such a beautiful and incredible research facility, and others to make progress on this hot topic,” said Dr. Yehuda Benayhu, Professor at Tel Aviv University, Israel.

During the workshop, participants planned lab and field experiments with coral reef organisms from the Florida Keys to study how ocean acidification and climate change will affect the local ecosystems. Participants emphasized multi-year, reef community-based experiments geared toward providing research to better inform managers and policy makers. A mesocosm experiment, which hopes to provide reef community-based information under ocean acidification and climate change, will begin this month, and is based off of participant’s ideas and contributions. All participants will continue to contribute to the science of these mesocosm studies as they run for the next 12 months.

“It is incredibly important to start to design mesocosm experiments that answer questions about the impacts of ocean acidification on corals. I am most interested in determining how microbes interact with the coral host and even with other microbes. The beauty of these kinds of experiments is that they allow each of us to provide a missing piece of the puzzle,” said Dr. Kim Ritchie, Mote Senior Scientist and Manager of the Marine Microbiology Program.

A mesocosm is an experimental tool that brings a small part of the natural environment under controlled conditions. In this case, the group designed a mesocosm experiment utilizing Mote’s new Ocean Acidification Flow-Thru Experimental Raceway Units (OAFTERU) and corals from Mote’s nursery. The Ocean Acidification Program is fairly new at Mote, established in 2012 to research and understand responses of ecologically important species — like corals — to projected levels of ocean acidification.

The schedule for the weeklong workshop was full. After initial group discussions and breakout sessions, all participants left the classroom for some hands-on learning. Participants dove or snorkeled in Looe Key, as well as at Mote’s coral nursery nearby, to ensure everyone could experience a Florida Keys reef, and gain perspective. Since coral restoration under ocean acidification was also a topic of the meeting, participants saw the nursery where staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) are propagated and raised for reef restoration. This also gave participants perspective and offered inspiration for creative thought and insight for discussions.

“This workshop is a unique opportunity that brings many members from all over the world to collaborate together to find solutions to a problem that affects us all, ocean acidification and climate change,” said Dr. Ali Al-Sawalmih, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Jordan. “This workshop brings people from all different nationalities together, enhancing future collaborations, which is important for the future of the environment.”

The researchers at the workshop also compiled published information to create a manuscript focusing on regional differences in ocean acidification rates of change, and identify areas of possible refugia, an area where special environmental circumstances have enabled a threatened species to survive, and determine how reef processes may be impacted by ocean acidification because of these regional differences.

“Ocean Acidification is a global problem,” said Dr. David Vaughan, Executive Director of Mote’s Tropical Research Lab in Summerland Key. “It was very important to have and international group of people to discuss multi-regional impacts and what we can do in these different areas. It brought people together from all over the world with different expertise, which will enable us to collaborate and work together on this global issue.”

Kaitlyn Fusco, MOTE Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, 4 September 2015. Full article.

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