100IC team featured in bioGraphic while on expedition in the Cook Islands

Researchers from the 100 Island Challenge team were interviewed for a piece in bioGraphic in January on an expedition to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. The article, “Picture of Health,” published online last week, details the daily life of researchers in the field and shares the team’s optimistic view of coral reef health in areas where local managers are making waves to effectively protect their natural resources. According to the article, “Despite myriad threats, some coral reefs are thriving, or rebounding, suggesting it may be far too early to write the obituary for these critical ecosystems.”

Moving forward, the team hopes to work with local communities in the Cook Islands and other similar places to empower local officials and stakeholders with knowledge of the health of their reefs in order to facilitate effective management strategies.

Read the full article here!

Smith Lab alum, Maggie Johnson, uses her field skills to learn more about Panama’s reefs

Smith Lab Ph.D. alum, Dr. Maggie Johnson, was recently featured in the latest issue of Trópicos for her work studying coral reefs of Panama as part of her postdoctoral research with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Check out this YouTube video featuring Maggie’s postdoctoral work in Bocas del Toro, where she uses field techniques she learned in the Smith Lab to answer important questions about reef health in Panama under changing ocean conditions!

Way to go, Dr. Johnson!

100 Island Challenge featured at SXSW: “Saving coral reefs one pixel at a time”

This year at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas there was a special panel focusing on the use of technology in coral reef conservation – “Saving Coral Reefs One Pixel at a Time”. Dr. Jennifer Smith spoke on this panel alongside Zack Rago, from the documentary, Chasing Coral, and Joanna Klein, a science journalist from the New York Times.



The panel explored how novel imaging technology is being used to study coral reefs and inform coral reef conservation. From landscape-view swaths of reef to microscopic coral polyps, the imaging technology used to assess coral reefs is just as diverse as the images they offer. Panelists discuss everything from “What is a coral?” to the latest in underwater imaging technology, including autonomous cameras, high-resolution photo mosaics, 3D mapping, and underwater microscopes. At the end of day, the take home message from the panel was that there is still hope for coral reef conservation, especially if we can use novel imaging technology, such as virutal reality, to educate people globally about coral reef conservation and the power they have to make a difference in their local communities.

Click here to see the Facebook livestream of the panel, posted by Scripps Oceanography

Click here to read the Daily Texan article, “How virtual reality can help save the coral reefs”

Collaboration in the news: Smith Lab assists US Fish and Wildlife Service with water quality monitoring at Palmyra Atoll

On a recent trip to Palmyra Atoll, members of the Smith Lab assisted US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) with the deployment of a nearshore water quality sensor.

The sensor, a Sea-Bird Electronics 16plus V2 SeaCAT Recorder with integrated WET Labs ECO-FLNTUS (say that 10 times fast!), is part of the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System’s (PacIOOS) Water Quality Sensor Partnership Program. It records temperature, conductivity (pH), pressure, chlorophyll (amount of phytoplankton in the water), and turbidity (how clear or murky the water is), which are all factors that can affect coral reef health.

PacIOOS provides participating partners with these data in a collaborative effort to increase understanding of how these oceanographic conditions affect the health of coral reefs over time.



To read more about the instrumentation and the reefs of Palmyra Atoll, check out the PacIOOS article here!

New study by SIO alum, Dr. Maggie Johnson, reveals how turf algae fare in the face of global change

Dr. Maggie Johnson, a recent Smith Lab PhD grad, recently published a study in the journal Coral Reefs revealing how epilithic and endolithic algae (that is, algae that grows on top of and beneath the surface of “rocks”, respectively) respond to increasing ocean temperature and acidification (lower pH).

Samples were collected from turf-covered substrate in Moorea, and were exposed for 3 weeks to different combinations of temperature and pH levels meant to mimic projections of future as well as present ocean temperatures and pH values.

Findings of this study suggest that algal turfs may respond positively to both warmer temperatures and lower pH (caused by an abundance of carbon dioxide in the water, which fuels photosynthesis). What’s interesting about these findings is that they also found an interactive effect between these two factors, meaning that the observed effects were even more apparent when warm temperatures and increased carbon dioxide were combined.

So, what does this mean for reefs of the future? While turf algae may respond positively to these conditions, other organisms, such as the corals that build the reefs, may have a negative response. This could mean a shift in the future from reefs that are dominated by calcifying reef organisms to those dominated by algal turfs and other fleshy organisms.

This study highlights the importance of incorporating multiple stressors into global change experiments to gain a complete understanding of how they will affect coral reefs in the future!


Click here to see Maggie’s photo featured as SIO’s “photo of the week”!


Johnson, M. D., S. Comeau, C. A. Lants, & J. E. Smith (2017) Complex and interactive effects of ocean acidification and temperature on epilithic and endolithic coral-reef turf algal assemblages. Coral Reefs. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-017-1597-2 [pdf]

Herbivore management may be the key to balancing the energetic budget on coral reefs

A new paper published by Emily Kelly and colleagues explains how we can balance the energetic budget on Hawaiian coral reefs through herbivore management and protection. Herbivores on coral reefs play an important role in controlling algal growth, but in systems where density of herbivores is low, algae can grow at a faster rate than they are consumed, resulting in a surplus of algae on the reef.


When herbivores are protected on these reefs, it allows the herbivore populations to grow and the rate of algal consumption to catch up to the algal growth rate, thus “balancing the budget.”

Though primary production still outweighs consumption at Kahekili (where this study was conducted in Maui, Hawaii), researchers in this study observed a diminishing margin between algal production and consumption by herbivores over the 5-year period of the study. Herbivores consumed 20.8% of the primary production in 2010, which rose to consumption of 67.0% by 2014.

This increase in consumption is due in part to increases in herbivore population (more mouths on the reef) and in part to greater impact by larger individuals (bigger bites from the reef). This implies that continued protection of herbivores at Kahekili could lead to a balanced energetic budget in the future!

Cover of fleshy algae decreased over the first 5 years of herbivore protection at Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area

Click here to read more!

Kelly, E. L. A., Y. Eynaud, I. D. Williams, R. T. Sparks, M. L. Dailer, S. A. Sandin, & J. E. Smith. 2017. A budget of algal production and consumption by herbivorous fish in an herbivore fisheries management area, Maui, Hawaii. Ecosphere 8(8):e01899.10.1002/ecs2.1899 [pdf]

Curious about the “100 Island Challenge”? Check out this article to learn more!

The 100 Island Challenge is a collaborative project led by Dr. Stuart Sandin’s lab, co-led by Dr. Jen Smith, that aims to work with partners worldwide to assess reef health in a holistic way that is comparable across all sites. News Deeply recently interviewed Dr. Smith to learn more about the goals of the 100 Island Challenge in assessing reef health and what makes this project unique. Check out their article, “Coral Triage: Scientists Zero in on Reefs with Best Chance of Survival,” to learn a little more about our scientific efforts and how they mirror and complement efforts across the globe!

Smith lab & colleagues publish new paper looking at zooplankton on coral reefs

Most coral reef scientists study charismatic organisms, such as corals and fish, while very few scientists focus on plankton. Since coral reefs have an abundance of beautiful and colorful creatures, small and inconspicuous plankton may be less attractive to many coral reef scientists. Of the few existing coral reef plankton studies, most of them are either bacterioplankton or phytoplankton, which are “relatively” easy to handle. There have been far fewer studies of zooplankton, although they are one of the important key players in the lower trophic levels in coral reefs.
“Zooplankton is recognized as a “black box” among many scientists working on coral reefs,” says Ryota, a visiting scientist in the Smith lab. In fact, there was only one zooplankton ecology paper among more than 2,000 papers presented at the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), or the so-called “Olympic games of coral reefs,” in Hawaii last year (June 2016).
However, zooplankton play a significant role in trophodynamics, serving as one of the important food sources to various reef fish and benthic planktivorores, including corals. “Approximately half of the benthic animals on coral reefs are filter feeders, or particle feeders, which feed on zooplankton and particulate organic matter,” says Ryota, “Even larvae and juveniles of many species of reef fishes grow by feeding specifically on zooplankton.”
Ryota and his team summarized the biomass and production of coral reef zooplankton in the past five decades, and focused on the paradox of reef zooplankton trophic structure, where there is abundant zooplankton biomass yet lower phytoplankton biomass in coral reef environments. This paradox has been discussed in previous studies, but they all are fragmentary and rather qualitative. Thus, comprehensive and quantitative studies were required to elucidate planktonic trophic structure in coral reef ecosystems.
The study team comprehensively investigated the biomass and production from bacteria, phytoplankton, protozoan (nano- and microzooplankton) and mesozooplankton in the coral reef waters of Okinawa, Japan, and compared the production from both the grazing phytoplankton food web and the microbial food web to that of mesozoopankton. They clarified that the grazing food web (phytoplankton), alone, did not satisfy the requirement of mesozooplankton throughout the year. Alternatively, the contribution of the microbial food web was important. Yet, the combined production from both food webs did not satisfy the mesozooplankton requirement in some seasons, emphasizing the importance of detritus in this food-limiting system.
“Detailed investigation on the origin and production of detritus will open the door for better understanding of pelagic trophodynamics in coral reef ecosystems,” Ryota said.
For more detailed information on this study, please see the full paper here!
Nakajima R, Yamazaki H, Lewis LS, Khen A, Smith JE, Nakatomi N, Kurihara H (2017) Planktonic trophic structure in a coral reef ecosystem – grazing versus microbial food webs and the production of mesozooplanktonProgress in Oceanography 156: 104-120.

Smith Lab & colleagues march (& swim) for science on Earth Day 2017!

This year on Earth Day (4/22/17) scientists, researchers, and science-supporters marched in 600 cities worldwide to show support for scientific research and scientifically informed public policies. During the Science March Dr. Jennifer Smith was conducting field research in Maui Nui along with Smith Lab members Dr. Emily Kelly and Samantha Clements, and Sandin Lab researcher, Nicole Pedersen, to collect coral reef images from Molokai, Lanai, and Kahoolawe for the 100 Island Challenge. The research team didn’t want to miss out on the global march and their chance to voice their support for scientific research, so they took their message underwater!

In addition to their underwater march for science, the research team also partnered with local scientists, managers, and enforcement officers on Maui at the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area to host a “Swim for Science” and talk story event held in conjunction with the March for Science event held earlier in the day at UH Maui College and the Smithsonian Institution’s Earth Optimism Summit. The event attracted an estimated 50 community members, resource managers, scientists, and conservationists to the Kahekili Beach Park, where participants made signs on underwater paper to parade around the beach park before taking their message to the water. In the water, participants swam in front of underwater cameras with their signs displaying messages in support of scientific research and expressing #EarthOptimism and #OceanOptimism for the conservation success story of Kahekili’s Management Area. After the march, participants had the opportunity to talk story with scientists, managers, and enforcement officers about their work and how to engage in communicating with elected officials in supporting resource management and enforcement. Click here to read more about the event!

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