Coral Reef Ecology and Optics Laboratory (CREOL)

Overview   News   Publications   Related Projects

Globally, coral reefs are home to more than 1/4 of all marine species, making them the most diverse marine ecosystem. Because corals depend on the photosynthethic algae (zooxanthellae) within their tissues to grow and thrive, light is the primary energy source for these ecosystems. Scientists are interested in studying how light travels through the water (e.g., absorption, scattering, change with depth) in order to understand what portion of the sun's radiation is available to benthic ecosystems, including coral reefs, for growth. A second active area of research involves investigating how these benthic ecosystems utilize the available light to better understand aspects of ecosystem function, such as primary and secondary production and nutrient cycling. Collectively, the study of light and how it influences coral growth and reef development, as well as ecosystem function, is called "reef optics" or "reef bio-optics."

Under Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Eric Hochberg, the Coral Reef Ecology and Optics Laboratory (CREOL) conducts both applied and basic research to understand how coral reef ecosystems function and respond to natural and anthropogenic forcings.  To address different aspects of the reef ecosystem, a combination of both traditional and more novel high-technology methods are used in the lab, including:

  • Diver-based surveys to assess benthic and fish communities;
  • Measure seawater chemistry to describe the environment in which reef organisms live.
  • Remote sensing to assess a reef's biological communities;
  • Optics to study how the benthic community utilizes light in an effort to understand ecosystem function.

CREOL Applied Research Projects

Marine Environmental Program (MEP)

Funded annually by the Government of Bermuda Department of Environmental Protection, MEP helps meet the Department's mission to protect Bermuda's environment by conducting routine monitoring of the marine environment and both existing and potential sources of pollution.

Seabright Point Monitoring

This is a five-year project, funded by the Corporation of Hamilton, for continued assessment of the coral reef ecosystem near the Seabright Point sewage outfall. The major concern driving the need for this assessment is the possibility that untreated sewage discharge might have a negative impact on the ecosystem.

Project Contact

Dr. Eric Hochberg
Senior Scientist
Tel: 441-297-1880 x723


School of Ocean Futures

Associate Professor, School Of Earth and Space Exploration
Senior Global Futures Scientist, Global Futures Scientists and Scholars
Assoc Professor, Environmental Life Sciences (PhD) program
Assoc Professor, School of Ocean Futures Bermuda Faculty


In The News

The BIOS National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program got underway in late August when nine students from universities across the U.S., and including Puerto Rico, arrived on campus. The annual 12-week internship program provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to participate in research projects under the mentorship of BIOS faculty. The 2022 BIOS REU program features three research themes in coral reef science.

Nine Undergraduate Students Receive NSF Support for Research Internships at BIOS

Aleksandra Crossman, 22, a recent graduate of Memorial University of Newfoundland in Labrador, Canada, recently completed her second internship at BIOS with support from the Canadian Associates of BIOS (CABIOS). In 2020, during her junior year of college, Crossman participated in a 12-week internship with reef systems ecologist Eric Hochberg. Keen to continue her study of corals, she jumped at the opportunity to conduct another CABIOS internship after completing her bachelor’s degree in marine science. “A CABIOS internship is a fantastic way to acquire hands-on skills and work alongside knowledgeable mentors in the field of ocean sciences,” Crossman said.

When Opportunity Knocks Twice

“The State of Bermuda’s Waters: A Snapshot of Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone from the Coastline to 200 nm” is a new report released by the Government of Bermuda. It highlights the status, uses, threats, and governance of the island’s marine environments and underwater cultural heritage, such as shipwrecks, in Bermuda’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). BIOS scientists contributed scientific knowledge and data sets to the report, which will be used to help inform future marine planning processes.

BIOS Faculty Contribute to Government Report on the State of Bermuda’s Marine Waters

Seven students who participated in the BIOS 2021 summer Coral Reef Ecology course are celebrating their contribution to the 2022 Ocean Sciences Meeting conference proceedings after submitting two abstracts based on their experiences in Bermuda. Both were accepted for oral presentations at the international conference, which was held in a virtual format for nine days beginning February 24. One abstract focuses on the scientific research they conducted during the three-week course, while the other highlights the benefits of intensive summer courses for early-career scientists. “I wasn’t quite ready to leave BIOS and disconnect from all the wonderful people I met and valuable connections I made there, so I was excited for this opportunity to keep working with our BIOS cohort,” said Emma Korein, 29, a first-year doctoral student at the University of Delaware (bottom row in bright pink shirt).

BIOS Coral Reef Ecology Students Make a Splash at International Science Conference

For 12 weeks last fall, a group of nine undergraduate students took part in the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at BIOS. This annual program pairs students with BIOS faculty and research staff, allowing participants to undertake research projects while also gaining fundamental skills such as experimental design, record-keeping, scientific writing, and public speaking. Last year featured a new collaborative program design around three broad research themes: biological production and exports, coral reef systems ecology, and plastics in the marine environment.

Fall Interns Team up for Ocean Science Research Experiences

A recent paper in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science used readily-available public data to conduct an analysis relating coral cover to a variety of biogeophysical forcings, or threats (such as wave height and marine pollution), with surprising results. Lead author Eric Hochberg, a reef systems ecologist at BIOS, explains that prevailing scientific thought expects coral cover to decrease as forcings increase; however, that wasn’t so for the majority of the forcings in the paper’s analysis. “That means we can’t explain the majority of the variation in coral cover across reefs,” he said. “This is a major problem for understanding how reefs work and for predicting their futures.” Photo by Stacy Peltier.

Missing the Reef for the Corals


Summer of Coral Reef Research at BIOS

BIOS reef systems ecologist Eric Hochberg was recently awarded two NASA grants to continue work related to the four-year NASA COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) mission, which he led as the principal investigator. Here, Hochberg prepares to measure the reflectance of the seafloor on a reef in Palau in May 2017 as part of the CORAL mission. The underwater data were used to validate the remote sensing aspect of the project. The work from CORAL underpins both of the new NASA grants.

Pair of NASA Grants Awarded to BIOS Scientist


BIOS Faculty and Staff to Participate in Virtual Career Fair