Loyola University Maryland & Newcastle University
When I moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 2016, I became a volunteer for the Healthy Harbor initiative, joining the oyster restoration project. The Chesapeake Bay oyster population has depleted to 1% of its once historic level. As an oyster gardener, I assisted in growing spat (baby oysters) in cages within the harbor. Once mature, oysters were moved to a protected sanctuary where, as grown adults, they can filter 50 gallons of water a day. In high school, I joined the aquaponics club where I gained experience with aquaculture and hydroponics in an aquaponics laboratory.
In 2017, I started at Loyola University Maryland. I took Cellular-and-Molecular-Biology, then Organismal-Biology, which helped me decide to major in Biology. Since then, I have enjoyed classes in Plant-Physiology, Invertebrate-Zoology, Ecology-Evolution-and-Biodiversity, Animal-Behavior, Animal-Parasitology, and Cellular-Systems. The most enjoyable aspect was the 10+ hours spent in the laboratory each week, working with technology from the light microscope to the ADC-Photosynthesis System. I attended a lecture focused on climate change which discussed coral reefs and projected outlooks seem grim. That is where my interest in coral research began. In September 2019, I began attending Newcastle University and reached out to James Guest, an ERC Research Fellow and PI of a world-class coral research team, CORALASSIST. James introduced me to Liam Lachs, a Ph.D. student on his team who has a project in progress.
Today, coral reefs are undergoing unprecedented levels of thermal stress and bleaching. Assisted evolution using selective breeding and restoration techniques aims to support natural selection of heat-tolerant coral. However, if the coral’s energy goes into thermal tolerance, then there may be less energy for other critical functions such as reproduction. If heat-tolerant coral leads to reduced larval supply, then assisted evolution efforts may be futile. Our research measures coral fecundity using a combination of light microscopy, image analysis using ImageJ, and data calibrations in R. We are working on multiple measures of fecundity including the number of eggs per polyp and egg volume, to detect more nuanced aspects of energy allocation to reproductive output.
I graduate from Loyola Summer 2021, after which I intend to return to Europe for my graduate studies and research. I want to pursue a career path in ecological research, and I am keen to continue work in coral reefs. No matter the path of ecology I follow, I have a goal to contribute and make a difference in the world.