I cannot believe the week has come to present our beautiful poster to Clemson University at the Undergraduate Research Symposium! It seems like just yesterday summer 2017 was beginning, I was earning my diving certification, and I was just stepping my toes into the spectacular world that is marine conservation research. I had no idea this coral data organization project would be so intense, and that I would learn so much from merely looking at pictures and trying to figure out just where my specific coral friend was hiding. It has been incredible (though perhaps tedious in organization) to see just what data we have gathered from the collection of 1300 or so photos taken in the last five years, and to determine what this could mean for the future of the Florida Keys reefs and those all around the world.
As the above graphic from the poster displays, the corals were of two species (S. siderea and P. asteroides) and were classified into four categories: resistant (meaning throughout the study, the coral did not bleach or die at all, despite environmental conditions); resilient (the coral suffered a slight bleaching event but came back as healthy later in the survey); bleached (the coral suffered a total bleaching event but came back as healthy); or dead (the coral suffered a bleaching event and died as a result). On the pie charts, the corals that survived (regardless of being resistant, resilient or bleached) were considered in the yellow percentage, and the dead corals made up the red percentage. The transplanted corals responded just as the natural corals did to the environmental changes, and the nearshore or offshore location mattered not—only the site of each coral colony. These findings help to spur the CMR Coral Team in new directions, specifically in experimenting with other different coral species, and exploring exactly why certain sites have more bleaching than others. I can’t wait to continue this journey and get my flippers in some Keys water on the next trip down!