Meet Andrew Altieri, an Assistant Professor at the University of Florida working in the Coastal Ecosystem Dynamics Group in the Environmental Engineering Department.
Read on to learn more about him and what his work entails!
Photo courtesy of altierilab.org
Where do you work and what is your current position title?
I am an Assistant Professor at the University of Florida, and I work in the Coastal Ecosystem Dynamics Group in the Environmental Engineering Department.
How did you get involved in marine science?
I've been in the water since I can remember, making beach and snorkeling trips to California and Hawaii with my family. I started scuba diving when I was 13 years old in the Channel Islands of Southern California with my dad, John Altieri. I loved it, and wanted to find a way to turn it into a job and career. While in college at UC Santa Cruz, I got certified in scientific diving by Don Canestro, and took a marine ecology class with Pete Raimondi. That combination of field work, and an experimental approach to exploring the natural world, got me hooked on marine sciences.
What is your research/project focus on?
Overall, I am interested in how humans interact with coastal ecosystems. How do humans impact marine ecosystems? How do coastal ecosystems respond to, and recover from, those impacts? And how can we reduce our impacts and strengthen natural resilience? Much of my current research is focused on ocean deoxygenation and how it affects habitat-forming species including corals. Oxygen levels are declining in many coastal ecosystems because of climate change and pollution in the form of excess nutrients. There is still a lot to learn about how species respond and which species are most vulnerable.
How does your research collaborate with CRF™?
We are collaborating with CRF™ in two ways at this time. First, CRF™ has provided us with colonies of the mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata) from their nursery. We are testing them to determine their tolerance in low-oxygen conditions. Second, CRF™ has deployed our oxygen sensors in their nursery. This allows them to better understand the conditions in their nursery, and helps us to collect oxygen data from another place in the Keys and expand our monitoring network.
Why should the average person care about coral reefs?
Coral reefs provide so many benefits that people from all walks of life can appreciate. The nature lover would appreciate the opportunity to snorkel or scuba dive. Photographers can take pictures. Hungry people can collect food in the form of finfish and shellfish. A coastal dweller derives protection from reefs that act as breakwaters to reduce wave energy. Owners of local businesses including restaurants, hotels, gas stations, bait shops, and dive operators gain income from the tourists that visit nearby reefs. Local governments get tax revenue, and cancer patients benefit from the natural pharmaceuticals derived from coral reef organisms... The benefits go on and on.
In order to save our world's oceans, where should our focus be?
The threats to the world's oceans are commonly divided into two categories: local and global. Local often refers to threats such as fishing and some forms of pollution where impacts are detected near their source, and so solutions can often be managed on the local government or community scale. Global factors include threats such as climate change. The reality is that all those problems require cooperation and holistic thinking to develop solutions. But all of them can be addressed by actions that we take as individuals, whether by our transportation habits, career choice, spending patterns, or political action. So it’s easy to find something that each of can do to save the world's oceans.
How can the average person mitigate climate change?
There are many everyday actions that anybody can take to mitigate climate change. On a daily basis, we can find alternatives to single-occupant automobile use (such as biking, walking, telecommuting, and public transportation), adjust our thermostats to be energy efficient, and eat foods with a lower carbon footprint including local, less-processed, and vegetable-based diets. The good thing is that many of these actions are not just energy efficient, they are also financially efficient and healthier.
What is your favorite marine animal?
Sea urchins. They are small and spiky and look unlike most anything else. Each one is small and appears almost motionless, but together in large groups they can mobilize and transform entire ecosystems. They clear cut algae which can protect reefs. They are the lawn mowers of the sea.