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
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.
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.