Midland College professors and students conduct research on coral reefs in Central America
On June 3-10, students participating in the Midland College (MC) Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program traveled to Roatan, Honduras to study the chemistry of water near and at a distance from Roatan’s coral reef.
“Coral reefs throughout the world are dying at an alarming rate,” explained Dr. Tom Ready, MC Chemistry professor and leader of the MC coral research team. “One-quarter of the world’s reefs have already been lost, and those remaining are under stress due to warmer and more acidic oceans. Reefs have existed on Earth for millions of years; however, some estimates indicate that up to 70 percent of the world's shallow reefs could be gone in the next few decades. One theory is that they are being destroyed by titanium dioxide, a substance found in most sunscreens. We are hoping that our ongoing research helps to contribute to other findings regarding remedies for coral reef destruction.”
This is the second year of the Roatan research project. During this year’s expedition, MC Dean of Math, Science & Kinesiology Dr. Margaret Wade accompanied the team.
“This is a longitudinal study, so we will be comparing data collected over a period of years,” said Dr. Wade. “It is a multi-program project. Professors and students in both the MC Biology and Chemistry departments analyze the water samples. Engineering students, under the direction of our Engineering lead instructor Dr. Brian Flowers, built a prototype of a water analysis sensor and are comparing the data from the MC-designed instrument with a commercial sensor.”
While in Roatan, the MC team assisted the Roatan Institute of Marine Science (RIMS) in cleaning their coral nursery, an area that is being used to grow coral so that dead coral can be reseeded in the reef. Wade explained that this is a relatively new project for RIMS. Small pieces of healthy coral are attached to a PVC frame, called a Christmas tree. Once the small pieces of coral in the nursery have developed to a sustainable size, they will be transported from the nursery to the reef. MC students participating in last year’s Roatan research observed the nursery in 2016. Team members documented the size of the coral in 2016 and again during the most recent visit.
Besides Ready, Wade and Flowers, other Midland College participants in this year’s trip included Greg Larson, associate professor of Biology, and students Micah Bigby, Daniel Dalager, Megan Ennis and Nick Mastroanni. Midland College alumna and current UTPB student Melissa Wood accompanied the MC team, as did UT Arlington Professor Dr. Laura Midlarz and her graduate students Lauren Fess and Contessa Ricci.