Surviving against the odds: A scientific journey into the survival of our oceans

Surviving against the odds: A scientific journey into the survival of our oceans

By Nataly Guevara, Alumni, Biotechnology, 2011. 

The ocean absorbs much of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that humans release, making it more acidic,
with major consequences for marine life and the people that depend on it. Corals are particularly
sensitive to change and most scientists make grim predictions for their future. 

Nataly Guevara durante recolección de datos en Roca Redonda, Galápagos. Créditos: Maximilian Hirschfeld.
The “hard” corals rely on a sensitive chemical balance to extract chemicals from seawater to build their “skeleton”. The classic understanding, derived largely from laboratory settings, is that when seawater
becomes more acidic, the calcification process required becomes more difficult or even
impossible to execute. 

Some predictions suggest that all coral reefs will be driven into a rapid decline or extinction before the end of this century due to ocean acidification. But against all odds, invertebrate communities, including a handful of coral species, are not only surviving but thriving under extreme acidification conditions in two locations known for their unique settings: Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands. 

In cold waters, corals are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification because lower water temperature naturally contains less calcium carbonate, which makes it more difficult for them to survive. Yet, beneath the ice sheets of Antarctica, coral communities are thriving.

Saludable colonia de corales duros. Crédito: Nataly Guevara.
Furthermore, during a research dive exploration in 2014, I discovered that Roca Redonda, a submarine volcano in the Galapagos Islands, harbors thriving communities of hard corals growing amidst bubbling CO2 seeps under acidic conditions. How can this be? We suspect that these corals' microbiome might be the key.

Corals’ microbiome are not only critical to host health, but furthermore its ability to rapidly evolve in response to changing conditions might help the host to survive under challenging and dynamic conditions. For example, previous studies have shown that corals have adapted to far higher temperatures that would otherwise kill them but are saved by their associations with certain taxons of bacteria which protect them. Could similar microbial interactions be saving corals from ocean acidification?

Pico del volcán submarino Roca Redonda.
We aim to elucidate biological processes involved in microbe-coral interactions, and how microbes might contribute to the adaptation of corals at the extreme acidic (Galapagos) and acidic-cold (Antarctica) conditions. We will additionally test these systems under controlled laboratory conditions, which will focus on the enormous potential of microbiomes as a tool to manage the conservation of threatened species. Moreover, we ambition to use storytelling and science communication tools to engage a broad audience to join the scientific journey to discover he extraordinary beauty of our oceans and the struggle for survival of corals living in extreme conditions. 

Velero de acero rompehielos "Aurora".
We have selected three study sites in Galapagos Islands (Roca Redonda, Darwin’s Arch and Wolf Island) and two sites in Fildes Bay, King George Island, Antarctica. We will sail into the Galapagos Archipelago and the Antarctica continent in a 67. 3 feet Steel ice breaker yacht. For the data and sample collection, we will use SCUBA diving, standardized underwater band-transect and plot surveys, complemented with underwater photography and video surveys. This project pursues to use the extreme oceanographic conditions and extraordinary beauty of the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica to marry scientific discovery with storytelling to advance our understanding about life at the limits and ultimately protect our oceans.

Descubre las carreras que puedes estudiar en la
USFQ aquí
Descubre las carreras que puedes estudiar en la USFQ aquí

No hay comentarios.:

Con tecnología de Blogger.

Browse Categories