TAMU-CC researcher, students to study coral reefs in Hawaii

CORPUS CHRISTI – Changes in the chemistry of the ocean are devastating coral reefs around the world, diminishing their role as a safe haven for marine animals and as a protector of coastal areas from storms and erosion. To more fully understand what is happening to these critically important reefs, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Assistant Professor of Marine Biology Keisha Bahr is launching an extensive coral research project thanks to a substantial grant from the National Science Foundation.

Bahr is leading a $1 million NSF grant in collaboration with the University of Hawaii, which includes a unique partnership with the Texas State Aquarium. This grant also will provide an immersive, hands-on opportunity for TAMU-CC undergraduates to study coral reefs in Hawaii for the next three years.  

“The project will study how changes in the chemistry of our ocean impact calcifying organisms, particularly coral reefs,” Bahr said. This project combines the skills of ocean carbon chemists, coral physiologists, and marine technology developers to build a state-of-the-art system that merges new ocean chemistry sensing technologies with cutting-edge methods for studying coral reef health and underlying calcification processes, Bahr said. Most importantly, students will have the opportunity to interact with experts across these fields and be involved in interdisciplinary research.

“This integrated system will be used to study the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on coral reef ecosystems that have not been previously possible,” Bahr said. “Current models that predict the fate of coral reefs are based on changes in ocean chemistry in the open ocean and have solely focused on the aragonite saturation state (a method of measuring ocean acidification). These projections do not account for the dynamic changes that occur in our coastal waters. Therefore, this proposed research challenges the paradigms that have underpinned the understanding of coral reef ecology for the past 50 years.”

Researchers will conduct experiments on corals grown in seawater tanks to examine coral response to changes in seawater chemistry and characterize the small-scale chemical gradients surrounding the corals under different environmental conditions. These experiments will help determine the factors that drive coral calcification in a changing ocean.

The project will support the training of several early career researchers, Ph.D. students, undergraduates, and high school students in the disciplines of chemistry, engineering, and marine ecology. 

Alice Echo News Journal, 9 June 2021. Full article.

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