MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A CRF marine biology doctoral candidate is at the center of research that may give hope for the future of coral reef restoration and conservation.
Serena Hackerott is spearheading a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant to the CRF Environmental Institute.
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The grant, worth nearly $ 274,000, aims to research innovative ways to make corals more resilient to climate change.
Hackerott and Dr. Jose Eirin-Lopez are leading the project at Carysfort Reef in the Florida Keys.
The team will apply stress-hardening techniques to corals in a lab and then send them back to the ocean. This hard love method is often used in agriculture to make the seeds more resilient. By pre-exposing corals to stress, including higher temperatures, the researchers hope to make the corals more resilient.
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Coral stress memory is a relatively new, but very promising, discovery. This suggests that corals can remember environmental changes – like marine heat waves that cause corals to bleach – and that memory can build their resilience and help them prepare for similar events in the future.
However, experts are not sure exactly how this phenomenon works in corals.
Hackerott says it’s something scientists should know before trying to implement stress-hardening techniques on coral.
“Pre-exposure of corals to stress, or hardening of stress, has the potential to improve the stress tolerance of corals, which may help increase the long-term success of coral restoration and conservation outcomes.” said Hackerott, who is also a research assistant with the CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and the Environment at the CRF Environmental Institute. “However, there are many aspects of this process that we still need to understand before we can implement these methods effectively and efficiently. Our aim was to highlight these knowledge gaps and suggest future research directions needed to better understand coral environmental memory and assess potential applications of stress hardening in corals.
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