The GMGI Science Hour with Dr. Erinn Muller and Dr. Hanna Koch: A Warm Up

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Known as: Associate Vice President for Research, Program Manager for Coral Health and Disease, Coral Restoration, and Senior Scientist (Dr. Muller); Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Dr. Koch) at Mote Marine Laboratory

Based out of: Sarasota and Summerland Key, Florida

What they do in 10 words or less: Study coral resilience and ways to restore existing coral reefs

Why what they do is important to you: Florida’s coral reef, which expands from central Southern Florida to the Dry Tortugas, is incredibly important to Florida’s ecosystem health and biodiversity, as well as to its economy. It’s estimated to be worth at least $8 billion to the state, providing over 70,000 local jobs and attracting 16 million visitors a year.

In addition to the 25% of marine life that relies on coral reefs, offshore reefs absorb wave energy, reducing erosion and protecting nearby shorelines, which helps prevent property destruction or any type of issues that could be related to wave force or wave height from storms. They also are an incredibly important source of novel medicines, with the unique compounds found in coral reefs being used to fight ailments like cancer, drug-resistant bacteria or memory loss.

The current state of Florida corals is dire, with several species on the brink of functional extinction. Dr. Muller and Dr. Koch are conducting critically important research that focuses on what makes coral sick, but also what makes corals healthy and the unique responses that are sometimes seen when different genotypes of corals are exposed to stress.

What you’ll learn from the talk: Dr. Muller and Dr. Koch will discuss their efforts restoring Florida’s reefs through fragmentation, (similar to the propagation of a plant), determining which corals are resilient to some of the major threats in the ocean, and the how and why behind such resiliency.

They’ll also discuss how their findings are shared with Mote’s Coral Restoration Program, which cares for 20,000 to 25,000 corals in their offshore nurseries, and another 30,000 in their land-based nursery. These science-based restoration efforts work to increase the genetic diversity and adaptive potential of restored coral populations, so that they can more effectively cope with environmental change and stress.

Key Terms:

Fragmentation – breaking the corals into smaller pieces of 1 to 5 polyps using a specialized saw, allowing them to grow at 25 to 50 times the normal growth rate

Outplanting – the process of replanting new corals into an existing reef

Ocean Acidification – the declining pH of our ocean chemistry

Gametes — reproductive cells (egg and sperm) containing only one set of dissimilar chromosomes, or half the genetic material necessary to form a complete organism

Genotypes – genetic makeup of an organism

Fun fact: Worldwide, reefs make up just 1% of the ocean floor, but are home to 25% of marine life.

When: This talk took place on November 4th. You can watch a recording here.


This Science Hour is brought to you by our Presenting Sponsors: the James & Gale Bacon Family Trust, the 1911 Trust and Ms. Elizabeth Moore and Supporting Sponsors: Eppendorf, Norland Associates, and Common Crow.