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Grant allows work to continue developing resistant corals

A $ 1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) will allow researchers at Hawai Institute of…

A $ 1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) will allow researchers at Hawai Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) at the University of Hawaii in Mānoa to continue the work of the late Ruth Gates to develop corals that are more resistant to the effects of climate change and create reefs that provide natural coastal protection.

Gates Coral Lab members place fragments of more resilient corals at an experimental nursery in Kaneohe Bay. Shayle Matsuda photo.

Coral reefs are the most diverse and threatened by the designated Resiliency Hubs, which provide protection to communities, fish and wildlife. These ecosystems can spread up to 97% of the wave energy caused by storms and buffer at sea level elevation effects, providing coastal protection for an estimated 200 million people worldwide. However, it is foreseen that only 1

0% of corals will survive by 2050, as ocean temperatures continue to increase.

Gates, who was the director of HIMB until his death last month, attempted to develop “super corals” to cure sea water that gets warmer and acidier, conditions that make corals vulnerable to bleaching and massive deaths.

The Coral Assisted Evolution, funded by Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, continues to explore ways of making super corals, the new funding will address coastal protection by resetting selected reefs in Hawai with these resilient coral.

“We are gone excited because this allows us to continue Rut’s research vision,” said Kira Hughes, project manager at Gates Coral Lab. “The most important thing is that this allows members of the laboratory to stay together as a team so we can conduct research in Rutt’s honor.”

Through the NFWF funding, Gates Lab will work with new partners, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hawai in the State Department of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and Mālama Maunalua (MM).

During this three-year new project, the team will identify coral layers that are more resistant to thermal stress, grow them within in situ nurseries and spread them along the south and east coast. Two of Hawaii’s most important reef populations will focus on three places: Kane Bay, Maunalua Bay and near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

NOAA and DAR are specifically authorized to perform coral restoration and have existing permits. HIMB offers expertise in coral thermal stress tolerance, and MM will engage members in society to improve transmittability.

The parties plan to develop a model for effective natural coastal protection for communities, fish and wildlife, with best practices that can be scaled up for the biggest impact.

Said Hughes, “The ultimate result is coral protection from coral reefs that are more resistant to heat stress.”

Dr. The Ruth D. Gates Memorial Student Support Fund has been established to continue its legacy of world-class research and efforts to preserve coral reefs in the face of warming seas by supporting next-generation researchers. Gifts for this fund will support bachelor and graduate students researching Hawaiian coral reefs at the Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.

To support this fund, go online.

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