SEA TURTLE hosts its inaugural guest speaker

Did you know that Anthozoa means "flower animal" or that corals have symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae inside of them that give them much of their color? Dr. Randi Rotjan knows this and so much more about corals. She is a coral reef research scientist/Principal Investigator at the New England Aquarium. She was SEA TURTLE's first guest speaker at Wednesday's night class.

Dr. Rotjan describing the structure of corals.

Dr. Rotjan's journey on her quest to become a marine biologist/evolutionary ecologist took 15 years of post high school education. She explained that the reward for all this time and effort is being able to ask her own scientific questions and then use her knowledge, creative thinking and experiments to find the answers. She described the process as "CSI: Marine Biology".

I really enjoyed Dr. Rotjan's description of coral reefs...they are like underwater cities, with each coral analogous to an apartment building. The corals are the engineers, the architects, and the workers. No corals, no reefs, no reef creatures.

Reefs with and without corals

To measure the health of a coral reef, she will gather information by measuring things. Dr. Rotjan will set up a transect, a system for measuring a specific area and recording the animals living in that area. She will also photo document the site using underwater video equipment.

Randi using a transect

By doing this, she is measuring diversity, abundance, biomass and the general condition of the reef. The health of the reef can be measured by revisiting the site to see how the corals have changed over time. Dr. Rotjan traveled to the Phoenix Islands in 2009, and the good news there is that the health of the coral reefs is improving.

New coral growth

She says being a good diver, a good citizen, staying curious, challenging yourselves and others to find solutions and living blue are all ways to help the coral reefs. And, she cautions not to fall prey to shifting baselines, which means a failure to notice slow, chronic change around you.

For more information on Dr. Rotjan and her research, please visit the Phoenix Islands Expedition Blog and the Global Explorers Blog on the Aquarium's website.

I know one difference between Dr. Rotjan's research expeditions and SEA TURTLE's expedition - our mantra will be "eat-dive-eat-dive..." not "dive-eat-dive-eat"! I can't wait to get under water and visit the coral reefs of the Bahamas!

- Barbara

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