From UC Santa Barbara: “Mo’orea Coral Reef: Research in Paradise”

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From UC Santa Barbara

With groundbreaking discoveries and innovative techniques in long-term ecological research, UC Santa Barbara is making waves at Gump Research Station, Mo’orea, where scientists are expanding our understanding of coral reef ecosystems and preparing the next generation of marine ecologists.

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What is Gump Research Station?

Situated on Cook’s Bay along the north shore of the island of Mo’orea, the University of California Gump Research Station is a premiere field station where scientists conduct critical research on the coral reefs and the many marine species that make their home in the warm waters of French Polynesia.

Much of the work being done at Gump Research Station is led by UC Santa Barbara scientists, many of whom are seeking to understand how global change and other disturbances are impacting coral reef health. In 2004, the National Science Foundation established the Mo’orea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research (MCR LTER) site with ecology professors Sally Holbrook and Russ Schmitt as principal investigators.

“These kinds of field stations are really the observatories for global change science and sustainability science”
—Russ Schmitt, Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara

Long Term Ecological Research

For three decades, ecologists Sally Holbrook and Russ Schmitt have been studying the coral reef complex that surrounds the island of Mo’orea, French Polynesia, seeking to understand what drives ecological change in natural systems. Specialists in population and community dynamics, they are co-principal investigators with the Mo’orea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research (MCR LTER) site.

When in the field, MCR LTER researchers are based at the University of California Gump Research Station on Mo’orea. The field station gives scientists the unique opportunity to study the coral reefs surrounding Mo’orea in real time, contributing new knowledge while drawing from the trove of data that has been collected over 30 years. Together, they are working to find answers to some of the most pressing global questions of our time.

“Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.”
—Deron Burkepile, Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara

Coral Reef Research

Corals are marine invertebrates that live in communities of hundreds to thousands of identical, individual soft-bodied polyps. Each of these polyps secretes calcium carbonate, which collectively creates the hard outer skeleton that gives coral its familiar appearance. That skeletal structure provides a habitat for a host of other species, including fish and other invertebrates.

Coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, and that makes them key to the health of the planet. They occupy much less than 1% of all marine habitat, but are home to as much as a third of all marine species.

In addition, coral reefs are critical to the millions of people who depend on them for food or as a means of livelihood through fishing and tourism, and to those who count on them as physical barriers that protect shorelines from damage caused by currents, waves and tropical storms.

Much of the research conducted at Gump Research Station examines the resilience of Mo’orea’s coral reef systems and their resident species in the face of disturbances such as ocean temperature spikes.

“It’s one of the most amazing experiences.”
—Nury Molina, Ph.D. student, Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara

Graduate Student Experience

Graduate student are conducting research on coral reefs that ranges from how herbivory controls algae that compete with corals to whether and how well fish adapt to rising sea water temperatures. All are making major contributions to our understanding of coral reef ecosystems and how they are responding to the impacts of global change and human activity.

For some, Gump Research Station is not their first field station experience, but it’s the most valuable.

“Having independence as a grad student has made me think about my own interests and pursue my own research projects, and that is really important for me moving forward in my career. And a big part of that is the opportunity to mentor undergraduate students.” — Kelly Speare, Ph.D. student.

“I can’t imagine a better set-up for conducting research in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.” — Kai Kopecki, Ph.D. student in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara

“The collaboration and energy of Gump Research Station is why I love coming back here. Everybody is helping each other out, and everyone is really interested in what others are working on. We all have the common goal of trying to understand what’s going on out here.”

— Jordan Gallagher, master’s student in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara

Undergraduate Student Experience

It’s life changing — spending a summer at a field station on the island of Mo’orea in French Polynesia, contributing to real-time scientific research. The work is hard, the days are long and the friendships are everlasting.

At Gump Research Station, undergraduates have the opportunity to bring the knowledge they have gained in the classroom and in campus labs to a real-world environment. Some find their passion in field work and expedition science, others discover it’s not for them and set career paths that take them in other directions. Either way, the educational value is immeasurable.

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The view from the Belvedere, Mo’orea, French Polynesia. To the right is Cook’s Bay, where Gump Research Station is located. To the left is Ōpūnahu Bay.

Community Outreach

Environmental research that expands our understanding of the coral reef ecosystems around Mo’orea is the primary function of Mo’orea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research initiatives, but the scientists who work there also are keen to share their knowledge with school children — both in Mo’orea and in California — to nurture their budding scientific curiosity.

They also welcome opportunities such as Earth Day and World Oceans Day to share their research — and enthusiasm — with the public.

“The wisdom of the University of California to invest in field stations like the Gump Research Station is absolutely key, because without them, research programs to understand long-term changes to our ecosystem are not possible.” —Russ Schmitt, Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara

See the full article here .

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