Field Work Expedition 08 - Culebra Island, Puerto Rico, Sep 2019

The End is Just the Beginning

This trip marks the end of a great field experiment and the start of the exciting period of sample and data analysis, and integration.

Five hundred and eighty days have passed since this adventure started. It seems like yesterday when we took that ferry for the first time, saw all the destruction left by the Hurricanes and began this journey that has let us discover some of the wonderful secrets of this island, its reefs and its lovely people. Outstanding data, a working team that will collaborate for life, and fantastic experiences make the memories of little inconveniences and difficult moments fade in the light of almost two years of absolute success. This trip marks the end of a great field experiment and the start of the exciting period of sample and data analysis, and integration.

Instead of a sad trip of goodbyes and melancholy, this was one of the funniest. Great weather, nice dives, karaoke and laughs, added to a smooth and successful final sampling to make this trip awesome.

Almost all of the main participants of this experiment were able to make it to this final trip: “El profe” (Dr. Sabat), who came to almost every trip even when all his students predicted that he would come only to the first (indication of how great this has been); Chema (Dr. Eirin-Lopez) with a similar situation, and even added a frequent visitor and active worker, Ana; Juan and Ivanna, our golden undergrads that have taken so many responsibilities and have always responded; and Alex, the champion that has missed only one trip and is the last one out of the water with me.

We missed some great people too, Claudia, Carlos, Sammy, Jaime, and many others that came and lend their hand and their knowledge to complete this experiment. Big THANKS to all that helped us in this endeavor, our success is due to all of you. We left Culebra with the certainty that we will be back sooner than later for another several hundred days to discover the many secrets of its reefs and continue the work to protect and restore it for future generations.

REU Student at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras

Bottom Time with Ivanna Ortiz Rivera

Ivanna is an Environmental Science major at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras. She joined the present project as volunteer first and later as REU student at FIU CREST-CAChE Center during the Summer of 2019. Ivanna’s work has been focused on the seasonal sampling of coral fragments and the study of epigenetic modifications using MSAP techniques.

"Once the project is completed, I believe that a next step to really incorporate the results obtained in conservation could be based on continuing with the epigenetic mechanisms of corals and their symbiotes and compare their role and responses to changes."

How did you become interested in the biology of corals?

My interest in the biology of coral reefs began in 2016 when my diving instructor took me on the voluntary mission for the Sociedad Ambiente Marino (SAM) to save sea urchins on a coast under construction in the town of Aguadilla. Realizing that it wasn’t bad at all being in the water all day, I ended up helping at SAM’s coral nurseries in Culebra, PR. Thanks to that and many experiences in projects with corals, I developed a great love and interest in these organisms. After many years of volunteering I have been given the opportunity to be an integral part of coral reef conservation projects such as: “Restoration of populations of threatened coral Acropora cervicornis” and “Physiological and demographic response of coral Acropora cervicornis to changes environmental”. Thanks to Professor Alex Mercado, who trusted me to work with him, I ended up being a volunteer by scientists from Florida International University (FIU) for the project, “Interaction between environmental modifications during coral responses to Hurricanes Irma and María in Puerto Rico ” It’s here where I see how I have grown in the world of coral reef biology and the great interest that developed along with all the experiences.

What is the most important contribution of this project to the assessment and recovery of coral reefs?

Once the importance of these ecosystem-forming organisms is understood and how their recovery and well-being directly influence coastal areas and other species that depend on them, then it is understood that this type of project provides an image of how this affects the oceans. Another important issue is the conservation of coral reefs, since this type of project provides a scientific basis for developing management plans and conservation focused.

Once this project is complete, what do you think would be the next step in coral research?

Once the project is completed, I believe that a next step to really incorporate the results obtained in conservation could be based on continuing with the epigenetic mechanisms of corals and their symbiotes and compare their role and responses to changes. This would help to fully understand these organisms and to be able to effectively implement this new knowledge in the area of science and research.

How will this project impact your future scientific development?

Thanks to this project, I was able to create a new network of contacts that opens up opportunities in my future in the area of science (both inside and outside my country). Likewise, this will incorporate inter-disciplinary knowledge into my training as a professional and surround me with incredible scientists that inspire me to continue. This are just some examples of what this great experience brings in my path of formation and growth within this research world.