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FIU Ph.D Candidate Helps Guide Research To Support Coral Reef Restoration and Conservation

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – An FIU marine biology Ph. D candidate is at the center of research that may provide hope for the future of coral reef restoration and conservation.

Serena Hackerott is spearheading a new grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provided to FIU's Institute of Environment.

The grant, worth nearly $274,000, is going toward researching innovative ways to make coral more resilient to the changing climate.

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 the corals in a lab and then return them to the ocean. This tough-love method is often used in agriculture to make seeds hardier. By pre-exposing the corals to stress, including higher temperatures, the researchers hope to make the corals more resilient.

Coral stress memory is a relatively new, but very promising finding. It suggests corals can remember environmental changes — like marine heatwaves that cause coral bleaching — and that memory can build their resilience and help prepare them for similar events in the future.

However, experts don't know exactly how the this phenomenon works in corals.

Hackerott says it's something scientists need to know before they try to implement stress hardening techniques on coral.

"Pre-exposing corals to stress, or stress-hardening, has the potential to enhance coral stress tolerance, which can 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 in FIU's Institute of Environment. "However, there are a lot of aspects about this process that we still need to understand before being able to effectively and efficiently implement these methods. We aimed to highlight these knowledge gaps and suggest future research directions needed to better understand coral environmental memory and evaluate the potential applications of coral stress hardening."


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