Monthly Archives: November 2011

Not Quite A Typical Day At Work

Poliana, Brazilian doctoral student and expert on Brazilian algae

My typical day here goes like this: I start with a light breakfast and dark coffee with Paula, then walk 2 blocks to catch the #409 bus that takes me straight to the Jardim Botânico. I skip the lines at the main entrance and use the gate for researchers at the Instituto de Pesquisas Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden Research Institute). The guards recognize me and know that my Portuguese is mostly limited to “Bom dia! Tudo bem?” (Good morning! How’s it going?). I say it, they reply, and we smile at each other.

Then I go straight to the microscope room. Poliana joins me and we spend the next few hours identifying what kinds of algae are on my slides. Poliana is a third year PhD student, just like me, and she specializes in the taxonomy of Brazilian algae. Sometimes, I call her my Algae Angel because she is so helpful.

This was a great reason for a break

Usually I spend many, many hours at the microscope, only taking short breaks for lunch or cafezinho (very dark, very sweet coffee). This past Friday, though, my day was not quite typical for two very different reasons.

First, Poliana ran into the room to tell me that there were toucans outside. I immediately dropped my lab notebook, grabbed my camera, and followed her. There they were, in all of their comic glory, having a snack on a tree right outside the lab.

Nice place for a cafezinho break. Can you see the Cristo el Redentor statue in the distance?

My second break was also for a very good reason: a short chat with a visiting dignitary! A group of people came in to tour the lab, and they stopped at my microscope to see what I was working on. They were the Ecuadorian Minister of Human Development and his entourage.

They are touring sites in Brazil to establish research partnerships and create more opportunities for Ecuadorian students interested in science. The folks at the Jardim Botânico explained that they currently are hosting a visiting student from the U.S., … me! So the Minister came over to say hello and ask about my research. I showed him some algae, explained my project, and even offered to come to Ecuador if necessary. We will see how that works out…

So, it was not quite a typical day. I did get a lot of work done, even with all of the exciting interruptions.



To check out more of Jill’s work, check out her website here!

Put Your Money Where Your Reef Is

I was pretty stoked to come across a recent article about the coral reefs in Hawaii. Based on a fairly rigorous study using stated preference (SP) methodologies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) determined that the American public values Hawaiian reefs at over $33,000,000,000.

33 BILLION dollars?


Wow! That sure makes it easy to justify studying these reefs… they’re worth billions to the American public. Here’s the report and a video.

Of course, those of us in my field (Coral Reef Ecology) already know a coral’s worth; but it’s refreshing to hear that our society, as a whole, has made such a bold statement about their value. Perhaps it’s time to put our money where our reef is.

Smith Lab Members Publish New Papers!

Andi Haas, Nichole Price, both post docs in the Smith lab, and Dr. Jennifer Smith have recently published a two new papers about their research on coral reefs, microbes, and DOC.

Andi Haas has written a short summary about his paper, published in PLoSOne, about his research in Moorea, French Polynesia:


Wet Labs in Moorea, French Polynesia

Effects of coral reef benthic primary producers on dissolved organic carbon and microbial activity

A.F. Haas, C.E. Nelson, L. Wegley Kelly, C. A. Carlson, F. Rohwer, J.J Leichter, A. Wyatt, J.E. Smith

In this study we investigated effects of coral reef benthic primary producers on dissolved oxygen, organic carbon and subsequently ambient microbial activity in the lagoonal reefs of Moorea, French Polynesia. The conducted experiments revealed that all investigated algae species, but not the coral, released a significant fraction of their photosynthetically-fixed carbon as DOC, these release rates vary by species, and this DOC is available to and consumed by reef associated microbes. With this data we could provide compelling evidence that benthic primary producers differentially influence reef microbial dynamics and biogeochemical parameters (i.e. DOC and oxygen availability, bacterial abundance and metabolism) in coral reef communities.

You can read the entire paper here.


Nichole Price has also written a short excerpt of her paper, published in Marine Ecology Progress Series, on  the effects of ocean acidification on two species of algae.

Experimental Setup - Increased CO2 on Halimeda, a calcareous green algae

Species specific consequences of ocean acidification for the calcareous tropical green algae Halimeda.

Price, N.P., S.L. Hamilton, J. Tootle and J.E. Smith

We conducted a manipulative laboratory CO2 enrichment experiment to test the effects of projected ocean acidification (OA) on two species of the common tropical green calcareous algae, Halimeda. While both species grew less in projected OA conditions (as opposed to present day CO2 levels), one species (H. taenicola) demonstrated the potential to adapt to changing conditions while the other (H. opuntia) disintegrated. The disparate responses of these species to elevated CO2 may be due to anatomical and physiological differences and could represent a shift in their relative dominance in the face of OA.

You can read the entire paper here.

Finding Inspiration

Levi & Em's Frog in To Kill a Coral Reef

Some very knowledgeable, educated people have claimed that coral reefs are destined to disappear in my life time and that coral reef ecology is (a) hopeless, (b) depressing and (c) a waste of time & money.  Ouch.  The defensive response is to curse them out and write them off…but that’s just not me.  If I think about the literature, their words hold some truth…things are not looking great for the future the ecosystems I study.  So what are we doing & why are we doing it?  I’ve found my inspiration.

To Kill a Coral Reef

by Levi Lewis

Why worry about coral reefs? We can talk about their financial value: to fisheries, to tourism, and to properties. Or their natural value: to cultures, to histories, and the Earth’s climate, chemistry, diversity, and beyond. But in truth, the world can survive without coral reefs. . .just as we can exist without song, or dance, or the myriad other arts that enrich our lives.

It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. And like Atticus Finch, we strive to save what some would claim is not worth saving; or if worth saving, cannot be saved. And like Atticus Finch, we ignore the attacks of naysayers and push past the doom and gloom mentality that plagues our profession. Like Atticus Finch, we strive on, doing what we know is right, though we are uncertain regarding the outcome. We do so because we realize that mankind is not just squandering the jewels of the sea or the gold of the tropics, but unnecessarily and unjustly sacrificing the beautiful and the innocent.

The corals of the world are not inanimate objects to be treated as expendable resources. They are magnificent, innocent, living, breathing creatures that construct the largest and most complex animal-made structures that this world has ever seen; and they existed long before the first human inhaled its first breath of air. And on top of this already immeasurable mount of intrinsic value, they contribute a palette of color and life and beauty to our planet’s seas with which no creature can compare. So, really, why should we care? Because corals are to to the seas as mockingbirds are to the air. It’s a sin to kill this mockingbird.

Levi & Em's Frog in To Kill a Coral Reef

Atticus & Tom in To Kill a Mockingbird

scripps oceanography uc san diego