Why do you research coral reefs?
While working on my PhD, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Arabian Gulf to train the environmental agencies in Abu Dhabi and Qatar how to monitor their coral reefs. Together, we set up permanent monitoring stations (similar to the ones now in place in Little Cayman) to track how the corals recruit, grow, shrink, and respond to natural and man-made disturbances. The corals in this region are subjected to the most extreme underwater environments – higher temperatures in the summer, lower temperatures in the winter, and higher salinities year round – compared to anywhere else in the world. These corals provide us with a glimpse in some of our worst case scenarios related to climate change. If we can determine how they survive, perhaps we can use this knowledge to protect our coral reefs in the Caribbean and globally.
Describe a great moment in the field:
I was having a particularly bad day at work. The sun was beating off the reflective surface of the boat making it hotter than the 95°F air temperature. My back was killing me from sitting in the rigid captain's chair for who knows how many days in a row. The survey project required that we putt along at less than 4 knots in order to properly acquire the sonar signal that was pinging off the side of the boat. On top of that, the wind had died down so the air seemed stagnant and suffocating. I was about to make perhaps the thousandth turn along the survey route (termed "mowing the ocean") and looked away from my overhead computer monitor to check for boat traffic. Right at eye level was a Brown Pelican, flying alongside the boat. It kept pace briefly, allowing my eyes to frame the bird beautifully against a backdrop of a clear blue sky and calm ocean water. In that moment, I remembered how wonderful my job is – even on a "bad" day. I silently apologized to everybody who has to work in an office cubicle, wear to business suit, or commute in traffic. I have done all those things, and I never want to go back!