Nation’s Top Marine Scientists Gather at RWU to Investigate Coral Reef Conservation Strategies

 Nation’s Top Marine Scientists Gather at RWU to Investigate Coral Reef Conservation Strategies

Roger Williams University sponsors second workshop aimed at applying latest research
on local corals toward solutions for declining tropical coral reef health around the

BRISTOL, R.I., July 27, 2017 – For a second year, Roger Williams University is
leading an initiative to bring together the nation’s top marine scientists to
investigate how research into the temperate coral of New England waters can inform
new research and solutions on the impact of climate change on tropical reefs across
the globe.

Led by RWU Assistant Professor of Marine Biology Koty
Sharp, this year’s workshop on Astrangia
poculata, the Northern Star Coral,
will convene leading research scientists from 18 government agencies, nonprofit
institutions and universities on Roger Williams’ Bristol campus from Aug. 1-2. With
twice the number of institutions participating this year, Sharp hopes to build upon
efforts from the previous workshop that explored research into the species and its
ability to withstand unusually drastic environmental change, and identified
opportunities to collaborate toward a model for tropical coral reef ecology.

An inhabitant of waters from Florida to Massachusetts, the Northern Star Coral
intrigues marine scientists seeking to understand how the temperate coral survives
the extreme temperature shifts from summer to winter, potentially providing insight
into resilience to climate change for tropical coral species, which have been
decimated worldwide by recent global bleaching events. Sharp has been researching
this coral’s microbiome for several years, bringing her work to the International
Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu, Hawaii, last
year where she shared her latest
with more than 3,000 coral reef scientists and practitioners discussing coral reef
health status, tools and solutions geared towards conservation strategies.

«Our working group has helped to establish Northern Star Coral as a powerful model
system and research tool for coral reef ecologists,» Sharp says. «There is an
increased awareness about this coral that is reflected in the surge of participation
in this year’s workshop, with many more researchers from across the country
identifying it as an organism of interest and wanting to join together to learn more
about this unique organism.»

Last year’s workshop at
forged several new research collaborations among the nation’s leading coral reef
scientists, resulting in numerous proposals for funding, peer-reviewed publications
on their research, and new ideas to pursue at the two-day workshop in August.
Researchers will examine the symbiosis between coral and its host, the microbial
community within the coral reef, the ecology of the coral and its role in New
England ecosystems, including as a barometer of coastal and urban marine issues.

«The Northern Star Coral has the potential to transform our understanding of
symbiosis – a biological partnership that is critical in tropical corals but which
is only sometimes used by this temperate coral,» says Randi
Rotjan, co-host of the
workshop and marine ecology researcher at Boston University. «This line of research
has urgent implications for conservation and may be an important piece of the puzzle
to understanding the basic functions of coral reef biology, and how corals can
tolerate an increasingly changing climate.»

In response to recent cuts in federal grants for scientific research, the workshop
will also feature a discussion led by Daniel Thornhill, director of biological
oceanography at the National Science
on how to broaden funding and research opportunities.

«Ocean conservation research is linked to the broader conversations on global
pollution, carbon cycling and climate change,» says Sean
Grace, co-host of the workshop and
professor at Southern Connecticut State
where he directs a research program focusing on the Northern Star Coral. «There
isn’t enough nongovernmental funding to tackle ocean issues, and without funding,
science stagnates. ‘Saving science’ may need to become as much of a mantra as
‘saving the arts’ – both are critical to modern society, and the sciences have been
underfunded for too long.»

RWU sponsors the coral reef research workshop with the goal of fostering new
multi-institutional collaborations that will advance scientists’ understanding of
climate change and coastal ecosystem health, according to Sharp.

This year’s participants will include Boston University, George Mason University,
Georgia Institute of Technology, The Marine Biological Laboratory, MIT/Sea Grant,
National Science Foundation, Old Dominion University, Penn State, RWU, Southern
Connecticut State University, University of Connecticut, University of Pennsylvania,
University of Rhode Island, U.S. Geological Survey, Virginia Institute of Marine
Science, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Western Washington University.


About RWU: With campuses on the coast of Bristol and in the heart of Providence,
R.I., Roger Williams University is a forward-thinking private university committed
to strengthening society through engaged teaching and learning. At RWU, small
classes, direct access to faculty and guaranteed opportunity for real-world projects
ensure that its nearly 4,000 undergraduates – along with hundreds of law students,
graduate students and adult learners – graduate with the ability to think critically
along with the practical skills that today’s employers demand. Roger Williams is
leading the way in American higher education, confronting the most pressing issues
facing students and families – increasing costs, rising debt and job readiness.