For 20 days in July 2019, BIOS welcomed 18 students on campus to learn first-hand about the natural and anthropogenic factors in play to sustain life on Bermuda’s famed coral reefs. Course attendees travelled from Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Mexico, Slovenia, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S., to further their knowledge of the coral, fish, and algae that form reef ecosystems.
The U.K. Associates of BIOS raises funds to support the education programs at BIOS for exceptional students hailing from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and for international students studying within the U.K. The education programs encompass all areas of oceanography and marine science, from climate research to genetic studies.
Three students from the U.K. received partial scholarships from the U.K. Associates of BIOS to support their attendance in the 2019 Coral Reef Ecology: Reef Response to Environmental Change summer course, including undergraduate student Victoria Golding. They took part in lectures, laboratory exercises, and complementary field components. They were trained how to monitor ecosystem health and to determine how projected global climate scenarios could impact reefs. In addition, the group explored the biological, physical, biogeochemical and evolutionary processes that determine reef growth, function and resilience.
This spring, Golding, now 24 and a graduate student in Saudi Arabia at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST), reflected on the BIOS experience in the coral reef ecology course that led her to pursue coral studies.
How did you become interested in coral studies?
Golding: In the summer of 2018, while I was completing an undergraduate degree in marine science at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland, I spent three weeks at KAUST, where I studied genomics, ecology, oceanography, and microbiology. I went on two diving trips, discovering the diversity of the reefs and marine organisms that live within the Red Sea, which also enhanced my species identification skills. This experience advanced my interest in corals and their role in the marine ecosystem. A year later, during my time at BIOS, I was blown away by the many types of coral reef research I was able to conduct in the labs and in the field. It completely helped me sharpen my research focus. Now in my graduate program at KAUST, I am dedicated to studying corals.
How did you find out about the BIOS opportunity?
A friend from university went to BIOS. After she described how much she enjoyed the experience and how much she learned, I wanted to go, too
What moments at BIOS stand out to you?
Conducting fish and coral surveys were pivotal experiences, as I was exposed to significant field research. There was no better feeling than doing what I love—diving—while conducting science research at the same time. I worked with three main lecturers: marine biologist Samantha de Putron and reef ecologist Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley (on faculty at BIOS), and visiting scientist Raphael Ritson-Williams from the University of Hawaii. They all had such a great influence on me with their passion for science.
What research are you conducting at KAUST?
I hope to understand how corals respond to a changing environment and what processes they undergo in order to cope with different temperatures. I am focusing on reciprocal transplants of corals from the wave-exposed side of an inshore reef in the Red Sea to the wave-protected side. These two sides represent different environmental and temperature regimes.
My research involves crossing the larvae of the transplanted corals and subjecting them to heat stress to identify if the acclimation processes of the adults are conserved in their offspring and if there is observed increases in thermal tolerance. We want to understand how this may contribute to increased heat resilience in corals in the face of climate change.
However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, I had to miss the spawning event of my corals, which takes place once per year at the beginning of April. Nevertheless, I will still be focusing on how corals acclimate to different thermal environments and what this may mean in terms of resilience to heat stress.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
After completing my master’s degree at KAUST I would like to do an internship in Australia working with corals, specifically looking into breeding corals to increase thermal resilience in offspring. From there I would like to start my PhD, either in Australia or back at KAUST.