"Talking Science" in September 2020 with the Coral Chronicles

NEW TERM, NEW PROGRAM INTERN!


The Science Department has welcomed a new program intern for the fall 2020 term: Ellen Hudson! If you keep up with our newsletters, you may recognize her as part of our Restoration Team this summer, acting as Restoration Program Intern alongside Haley Hurst. 


While she had a wonderful summer with the Restoration Team, she is very excited to be transitioning over to the Science Department for the fall term!


Ellen in our Tavernier Nursery. © Ellen Hudson /Coral Restoration Foundation™


Here's what Ellen has to say about starting this new term with our Science Program:


“When the summer term was nearing its end, and it came time to think about future possibilities, the opportunity to work with the Science Department was the first thing that came to my mind. This past summer, I was focused on our Restoration Program and what they needed to achieve annual outplanting goals, but now I will be switching over to monitoring our new outplants and tracking their success in the coming months. I don’t have as much analytical experience as I’d like, so working with the Science Program will help me develop these skills. I’m also super excited to work with our Science Program Manager, Amelia. I know I will learn so much from her!”

Welcome to the team, Ellen! We know you're going to be an incredible asset to the CRF™ Science Program.


UNRAVELING OUR CORALS:

ANALYZING GENOTYPES FROM THE TAVERNIER NURSERY

This new term is off to a fast start for the Science Team with a 2-day collection of samples from every staghorn coral in our gene bank and research area of the Tavernier Nursery! A team of staff and interns recently travelled to our Tavernier Nursery to take samples of staghorn coral. These samples will be sent out for DNA extraction and sequencing for further genotypic analysis. 


Restoration Associate, Nikkie, takes a coral sample. © Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™


The collection process was carefully laid out, and our dive teams worked in teams of 2 to complete the detail-oriented task of harvesting samples from 182 corals. Each team read from a list of trees underwater in the Tavernier Nursery that needed to be collected from. Then, team members took a small sample of coral polyps (about half the size of your pinky fingernail) by clipping the coral, then organized them in a container with different cells to keep the various samples separated. Once the container was filled, one of the divers would take the container to the boat where our Science Program Manager, Amelia, sorted the samples into 2mL tubes filled with ethanol to begin the denaturing process.


A member of the CRF™ team clips a sample of staghorn coral. © Alex Neufeld /Coral Restoration Foundation™


CRF™ has done genotypic sampling of our corals in the past, using a few different sampling methods. However, earlier this summer, we participated in a staghorn coral swap with various organizations from Southern Florida. This means that we now have more genotypes in our nurseries than ever before!


The new analysis that we collected samples for is a new process here at CRF™. This analysis will be done using a newly developed technology called the “SNP chip” (pronounced “snip”), which stands for single-nucleotide polymorphism. This chip, also known as a “microarray”, was developed by Iliana Baums at Penn State University, and allows us to identify corals and the symbiotic algae living inside a coral’s cells. This technology is accompanied by an online database wherein researchers can analyze their data. Our team is really looking forward to digging into this new dataset!


Science Program Intern, Ellen, hands Amelia a full tray of coral samples. © Alex Neufeld /Coral Restoration Foundation™


Once our team receives the corals’ genotypic information, we can begin to compare our dataset to that of other corals from other organizations, such as those from the previously mentioned staghorn coral swap. Because of the abundance of collaborative work being done by Coral Restoration Consortium (CRC) in efforts towards restoring our reefs, having a database to compare genotypic information of previously collected samples is necessary to track population numbers as well as any spatial and temporal changes that may have happened. Now, we will be able to compare CRF-collected corals to those we received in the staghorn swap and have a better understanding of their specific genetic makeup.


After each sample was taken, it was placed in a container with separate cells (right). The genotype and its corresponding numbered cell were documented and given to Amelia on the boat to transfer to tubes (left). © Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™


Samples were also taken from sexual recruits from the 2017 & 2018 spawning seasons that have now grown into large colonies. These corals are currently labeled with tags that have names given to them by the Florida Aquarium, where the gametes were originally sent to settle and grow before being returned to the Tavernier Nursery. As these coral transition into being part of CRF’s permanent stock, we will be attaching new tags on these corals with their corresponding genotypes, just like the corals in the rest of our nurseries!


While this trip to the Tavernier Nursery was only for collecting samples from our staghorn corals, we are in the process of planning another trip to take samples from our elkhorn corals as well!


In the upcoming months, CRF™ is looking to organize another coral swap, this time trading elkhorn frags with our partnering organizations. This means we will be expanding the genetic diversity of our nurseries even more. We're excited to do even more SNP sampling and to continuing working with CRC.

"Talking Science" Editorial Team


Ellen graduated with a B.S. in Marine Science and a minor in Environmental Policy, Institutions, and Behavior from Rutgers University in 2017. Growing up in New Jersey, her summers were largely spent boogie-boarding and building sand castles at the Jersey shore. It was her first Discover Scuba in Bermuda at the age of 13, however, that sparked her passion for coral reefs and diving. During her undergrad at Rutgers she took part in a study abroad program in Little Cayman, where she monitored the bleaching severity of corals around the island and had her first coral nursery and outplanting experience. It was here that she learned about Coral Restoration Foundation™, and it quickly became her dream to be a part of the CRF™ team.  Recently, she completed her divemaster certification and is absolutely ecstatic about joining the CRF™ team in beautiful Key Largo.  She is excited to do her part to restore this amazing ecosystem and hopes to inspire others to protect and conserve it for generations to come.


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