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Emily Parsons: CRF™ Research Collaborator of November 2019

Meet Emily Parsons, a Genomics Fellow at the College of Charleston studying coral health and disease for her Master's.

Read on to learn more about her and why she's doing this important research!

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

I am a Genomics Fellow at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina, studying for my master’s degree in the Graduate Program in Marine Biology. I am doing my thesis work in NOAA’s Coral Health and Disease laboratory under Dr. Cheryl Woodley at Hollings Marine Laboratory.

How did you get involved in marine science?

It’s always interested me how much of the ocean remains unexplored while at the same time being such a vital resource for so many throughout the world. I’ve always loved science and the ocean and decided to go to school to study it.

What is your research/project focus on?

My research is investigating whether genetic relatedness (e.g., clone, sibling, cousin or distant relatives) among coral genotypes will influence coral fertilization success. In other words, can we improve sexual fertilization in coral nurseries and outplanting sites by pairing certain genotypes? We are focusing on Acropora cervicornis and Orbicella faveolata, two Caribbean ESA listed corals that are being propagated heavily in Florida and the Caribbean for restoration of degraded reef sites.

How does your research collaborate with CRF?

Coral Restoration Foundation is one of the largest marine conservation organizations in the world dedicated to restoring coral reefs. Perhaps more importantly, CRF is actively restoring reefs on a large scale with coral nurseries and outplanting sites. This generates a large resource that they are willing to share with researcher partners like us. So, being able to collaborate with CRF is critical for a research project like mine to be even possible. Specifically for my project, the collaboration involved being part of their coral spawning activities this past August in the Florida Keys. They brought gravid adult staghorn corals into holding tanks onshore from their off shore nurseries and shared gametes from 10 of the genotypes that spawned. This collaboration also involves sharing our genetic findings with CRF to incorporate in their practices. Our hope is that this collaboration will allow coral restoration practitioners be able to augment their practices by using genomic-enabled technologies and ultimately helping to restore and delist ESA-threatened Caribbean Acropora species.

Why should the average person care about coral reefs?

Coral reefs contain a wealth of biodiversity and resources. I have read that no less than 80 emerging nations depend on coral reef ecosystems for their economies or subsistence. The unique habitat of coral reefs support a diversity of marine life; their large underwater structures serve to buffer our shorelines from storms and large waves and guard against coastal erosion, and are even sources of medicine for us. Their protection and restoration are vital to retaining the services that these near shore ecosystems provide and the economies that depend on them.

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

The big picture - global policy and ensuring that environmental protections are in place to protect our natural resources and mitigate the exploitation of our environment.

How can the average person mitigate climate change?

Many organisms have remarkable abilities to adapt and acclimate to a changing climate to a certain point. However, these abilities can be diminished or hindered by pollutants in the environment. To mitigate the negative effects of climate change on a local scale, the average person could be conscious of their pollution fingerprint. This could be done through participating in community clean-ups, making sure you don’t litter, and paying attention to which type of products you buy. This will help give your local environments more of a fighting chance, and give them more time to adapt while the big picture problems are worked out.

What is your favorite marine animal?

Stony corals, of course!

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