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Ben Young: CRF™ Research Collaborator of September 2019

Meet Ben Young, a PhD student at the University of Miamia, identifying disease resistant genotypes in elkhorn coral!

Read on for a Q&A to delve deeper into the subject of how his research can help our restoration efforts!

Where do you work and what is your current position title?

I am a 3rd year PhD student at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, in the Cnidarian Immunity Lab.

How did you get involved in marine science?

I knew I wanted to study animals, but my undergraduate Marine Biology course at Monash University, Australia, was my first exposure to marine research. This followed by field trips to the Great Barrier Reef (not bad I know), and exposure to marine research cemented that I wanted to pursue marine research as a career path.

What is your research/project focus on?

My research is focusing on the transcriptomic and microbial dynamics of disease in Acropora palmata (elkhorn coral). Historically coral disease research has focused on the pathogen, instead I am looking at the host response in an effort to identify genotypic responses conferring disease resistance as well as markers which could be used for diagnostic purposes in the future.

How does your research collaborate with CRF?

Pretty substantially!! My PhD work is building off of past collaborations with CRF™ exclusively using genotypes housed and raised in the CRF nurseries. Currently, I am using four genotypes of CRF™ Acropora palmata and running a laboratory disease exposure experiment to look at the transcriptomic and microbial response to disease. The results from this experiment will then be used to direct the analysis of a yearlong observational and sampling study which is using CRF™ out planted Acropora palmata genotypes at 4 reefs in the Florida Keys.

Why should the average person care about coral reefs?

You should care about corals reefs not only for their beauty, but for their importance for a number of people and marine species. As human beings we should be maintaining and looking after the resources we have instead of causing their demise, even if they do not benefit us directly daily.

In order to save our world's oceans, where should our focus be?

The number one focus is stopping climate change, if we can get our emissions under control then the benefits to marine and terrestrial ecosystems will be substantial. Apart from climate change, I believe there are three areas which we should be focusing on.

Firstly, coral reef ecosystems. These underwater rainforests brimming with biodiversity are vitally important for a number of species, yet they occupy less than 1% of the ocean. We should therefore look to actively manage them while also restoring them so to maintain these habitats which are homes to over 25% of marine species!!!

Secondly, overfishing. By managing the amount of biomass, we take from the oceans this will allow fish populations time to come back from severely depleted numbers. This will have knock on effects of increasing biomass of species which depend on the depleted fish stocks, as well as improving the overall health of the oceans.

Finally, plastic. We need to reduce our plastic use and consumption. We need to stop our plastic use as it is now being shown to be a leading cause of death in marine animal populations.

How can the average person mitigate climate change?

If everyone starts to make small changes to combat climate change the impacts could be massive. I now do not eat meat 3 days a week as the meat industry is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. You can reduce your meat intake, ride a bike or use public transport instead of a car, if flying (try not to!!!) donate to companies which can reduce your carbon footprint. Every little bit helps and is a step in the right direction to mitigate climate change.

What is your favorite marine animal?

I love nudibranchs. They are so colorful and amazing to watch and photograph underwater! A close second though is corals. There complexity and challenges associated with working with them means I never have a dull day at work!!!

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