This summer I interned for Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida for their Coral Reef Ecology and Microbiology department. I spent the first eight weeks at Mote's Sarasota location and the last two weeks at their Tropical Research Laboratory on Summerland Key in the Florida Keys.
During my time in Sarasota, I helped with the end of a year long experiment that tracked the physiological and microbiological changes in fifteen genotypes of Acropora cervicornis (staghorn coral) when exposed to different pHs, mirroring the changes in pH due to ocean acidification. The goal of this experiment was to find the most resilient genotypes of staghorn coral in order to increase the efficiency of restoration efforts.
Daily tasks would include maintaining and checking the temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, flow rate and salinity in the morning and afternoon of 17 tanks. I tested the buoyancy, growth rates and photosynthetic capabilities of their symbionts as well as the net respiration and photosynthetic rates of all 50 corals and conducted microbiology experiments to test the different clades of symbionts in each of the corals. I also helped with data organization and analysis to determine the trends and results of the experiment.
During my time at Mote's Tropical Research Laboratory I assisted with my supervisor's previous intern with a project for her PhD. I lived on site in the intern housing and had my first real experience of truly living for science. The experiment was testing to see the health of cavernosa coral and the resilience of black band disease in different pHs over a five week period. We collected 20 fragments of cavernosa coral and collected black band disease on the reef and inoculated half of the corals with disease.
We maintained and tested water quality in the tanks of the 20 corals every day and tracked the growth of the coral along with the growth of the disease. We also measured the photosynthetic capability of the corals, used micro-sensors to test the respiration rate of exclusively the disease, and measured the respiration rates of the corals during the day and at night every four days- meaning we worked until 2am every fourth day! It was a lot of work but it was truly an adventure and such a learning experience. I now understand what it takes to go into this field and have gained so much laboratory and field experience by helping with these two experiments.