#post_titleM grant boosts coral reef restoration in Hawaii and expands Gates Coral Lab research

Ruth Gates. Photo by Elysee Butler.

fire research work Gates of Ruthpioneer in coral reef conservation, will continue thanks, in part, to a $1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) to University of Hawaii in Manoa.

Gates, who died Oct. 25, was leading an effort to develop “super corals” to withstand ocean water that is becoming warmer and more acidic, conditions that make corals vulnerable to bleaching and mass mortality.

Gates Coral Lab members scuba dive and tend to corals, click for larger image
Gates Coral Lab members place hardier coral fragments in an experimental nursery at Kāneʻohe Bay.

Coral reefs are the most diverse and threatened of the designated “centres of resilience” that provide protection for communities, fish and wildlife. These ecosystems can dissipate up to 97% of wave energy caused by storms and cushion the impacts of sea level rise, providing coastal protection to approximately 200 million people worldwide. However, only 10% of corals are predicted to survive past 2050 as ocean temperatures continue to rise.

While the Coral Assisted Evolution project, funded by Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, will continue to explore ways to make “super corals,” the new funding will address coastal protection by restoring selected reefs in Hawaii with these resilient corals.

“We are beyond excited as this allows us to continue Ruth’s research vision,” said Kira Hughesproject manager at Gates Coral Lab. “Most importantly, it allows lab members to stay together as a team, so we can conduct research in Ruth’s honor.”

Through the NFWF funding, the Gates Lab will work with new partners, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hawaii State Department of Aquatic Resources (GDR) and Malama Maunalua (MM).

Continuing the Legacy of Ruth Gates

During this innovative three-year project, the team will identify the coral stocks most resistant to heat stress, culture them in on the spot nurseries and propagate them along the southern and eastern shores of Oʻahu. Two of the main reef-building species Hawaii will be targeted at three sites: Kāneʻohe Bay, Maunalua Bay and near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.

NOAA and GDR are specifically mandated to perform coral restoration and have existing permits. HIMB provides expertise on thermal stress tolerance of corals, and MM engage community members to improve portability.

The partners plan to develop a model of effective natural coastal protection for communities, fish and wildlife, with best practices that can be scaled up for maximum impact.

According to Hughes, “The ultimate result is shoreline protection from coral reefs that are more resilient to thermal stress.”

the Dr. Ruth D. Gates Memorial Student Support Fund was created to continue its legacy of research and world-class efforts to preserve coral reefs in the face of warming seas by supporting the next generation of scientists. Donations to this fund will support undergraduate and graduate students conducting coral reef research at HIMB.

Find the whole story on the School of Marine and Earth Science and Technology website.

—By Marcie Grabowski

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