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NSU Scholarship Fishing Tournament

Elizabeth Murphy McDonald

Advisor: Dr. Joana Figueiredo

Project Summary:

Coral reefs face a number of threats that have led to their widespread decline in recent decades, including warming sea temperatures and ocean acidification. In recent years, coral disease has also emerged as one of the most pressing and unpredictable threats to coral reefs. This is particularly true in the Caribbean, which is known as a ‘disease hotspot’ for its uniquely high prevalence and frequency of disease. Today, the Florida Reef Tract is experiencing a highly lethal, multi-year, multi-species coral disease outbreak that has already spread through hundreds of kilometers of reef since its origination in 2014. This current disease outbreak is unprecedented in its scale and anticipated damage, necessitating important research to understand more about its biology and cause.

Histopathology, the study of disease development in cells, is a valuable tool for understanding the clinical progression of this disease through a coral colony. My research at NSU will be investigating the pathology of this coral disease by identifying whether the primary mechanism of cell death is necrosis or apoptosis, and also investigating some of the cell signals potentially involved. This work will provide critical information regarding the biology of this highly-lethal coral disease, and will help refine our diagnostic abilities of tissue-loss coral diseases.

The support provided by the NSU Fishing Tournament Oceanographic Scholarship has allowed me to focus more time on this research, and has also awarded me the opportunity to assist with ongoing projects in our land-based coral nursery focused on coral reproduction and restoration. This has allowed me to be fully immersed in multiple aspects of coral reef science, which has strengthened my understanding of my own work and continues to make me a more thoughtful, interdisciplinary coral scientist. I look forward to finishing my Master’s degree and completing this exciting research at NSU with the support of this scholarship

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