Currents: August 2011
Unlike BIOS, where field science is paramount, the science done at CSM is primarily laboratory-based. There, coral physiologists like Tambutté and Venn can adjust certain aspects of the water, such as pH or carbon content, in order to see how the corals respond. Specifically, Venn and Tambutté study the biology of biomineralization: how and why corals calcify to form their skeletons under different conditions. By carefully removing corals from the reef and sending them to be cultured in Monaco they can see how corals respond both in a lab environment and in the field, simultaneously.
Venn, who actually held a postdoctoral position at BIOS from 2003 to 2008, said that Bermuda was the perfect place to continue their work. “It’s important to get out in the environment to make sure you see the bigger picture about what’s studied in the lab,” insisted Venn.
Andersson didn’t seem to think the Monegasque team had a problem seeing the big picture. “These guys are really the best in the world at what they do; trying to create a link in ocean acidification and experimental coral physiology,” said Andersson, seemingly pleased with the collaboration efforts.
The area around BIOS is scientifically unique. The coral reefs surrounding Bermuda are well studied and protected, not just by biologists, but by chemical oceanographers as well. Scientists like Andersson take samples across the reef platform making it possible for others to visualize chemical gradients across specific environments. The existences of the BEACON and BATS (Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study) projects mean that the ocean chemistry in these regions is well documented and characterized. In fact, due to its long history of protected reefs and its well-cataloged ocean chemistry, Venn called Bermuda “a natural laboratory.”
The field of ocean acidification is quite new and of great importance. Scientists at BIOS and CSM were the first in the world to start characterizing and highlighting the potential dangers of ocean acidification. As a result, scientists around the globe rely on the baseline data collected from these two organizations. Continuing the parallel research between these two institutions makes sense, said Venn.
The preliminary data from this collaboration will form the base of a new project to better understand the impact of climate change on the biology of corals. “The chemistry of the ocean is changing and that has repercussions,” emphasized Venn. In Bermuda alone, if the reefs were destroyed, roughly $700 million to $1 billion would be lost in tourism and fishing. Not to mention all the damage that would be caused to houses and property if hurricanes touched the island with the lack of coral boundary.
“The world is changing, whether we like it or not,” stated Venn. “It’s important to understand the processes of these reefs now to predict how they’ll change in the future.” All involved believe that the continued collaboration between BIOS and CSM is an important step towards that understanding.