October 28, 2008
Photographer: Iliana Baums, Baums Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University
Summary Author: Iliana Baums
Several months ago, scientists participated in an eight-day mission in which they were living and working at 60 feet (18 m) below the sea surface in order to determine why some coral colonies survive transplanting after a disturbance, such as a storm, while other colonies die out. Coral reefs worldwide are suffering from the combined effects of hurricanes, global warming, increased boat traffic, and pollution. As a result, their restoration has become a priority among those who are concerned about their health. Using as a home base the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Aquarius, an underwater facility for science and diving located in Key Largo, Florida, a team of "aquanauts" is working to protect coral reefs from this barrage of threats by investigating ways to improve their restoration. The photo above shows an aquanaut building a “coral garden” with transplanted colonies. Once the animals are established, the team will return to the sites monthly to measure, among other things, the corals' growth rates, their photosynthesis rates, and the biodiversity of the beneficial algae that live inside their cells. Dr. Margaret Miller (NOAA), the projects leader and Dr. Iliana Baums, assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University, expect that the study's results will help them to improve coral restoration efforts in the future. Photo taken in the Florida Keys on June 12, 2008.