Who Will Watch over Tomorrow’s Oceans?

Every day we hear news about our oceans, some exciting and some disturbing, but all of these stories lead us to one urgent question: Who will watch over tomorrow’s oceans?

On December 1, Ocean Genome Legacy hosted a group of eager students from the Boston University Marine Program (BUMP) Marine Genomics course, one of many visits to OGL by students from preschool to graduate school levels. These budding marine scientists toured the OGL facility, learned about OGL’s important mission, and got a firsthand opportunity to participate in OGL’s great experiment in cooperative genomic conservation.

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The Marine Genomics students sampled biodiversity in the Boston area and beyond. Photo credit: Liz Burmester.

While exploring the OGL laboratory, the students learned about each step of the biorepository, from planning a collection expedition to extracting, quality testing, and securely preserving high-quality DNA. But most importantly, the class had the opportunity to make a firsthand contribution to OGL’s collections.

Under the guidance of Professor John Finnerty and PhD student Liz Burmester, the BUMP class is studying how corals turn their genes on or off to cope with environmental stresses such as disease, “bleaching” caused by warming ocean temperatures, and other human-influenced challenges. As part of their course, these students had the opportunity to study corals in their native environments in Belize and close to home here in New England. (Believe it or not, we do have corals in New England!) With a kit provided by OGL, the students also collected and contributed samples to OGL’s biorepository, giving them the chance to share the fruits of their labor with the broader scientific community.

The BUMP class sampled several species that hold important clues to the future of our oceans:

Growing over 12 inches long, queen conchs are being overfished in the Caribbean for their meat and majestic spiral shells. The BUMP students studied the genetics behind different shapes and sizes of conchs, especially a population of “dwarfs” reported by local fishing communities.

With antler-like pointed branches, staghorn coral was once among the most important reef-builders in the Caribbean. Now with more than 90% of its populations decimated by bleaching, white band disease, and other disturbances, scientists are urgently studying ways to help this coral and its relatives recover.

Did you know that there’s coral off the coast of Rhode Island? The northern star coral can tolerate cold waters and survive for long periods of time without zooxanthellae, the symbiotic algae that help most corals survive. Studying these hardy survivors may inspire ways to help other corals respond to harsh environments.

In addition to the great experience these students are getting in the BUMP program, they also support the powerful idea at the heart of OGL’s mission: that scientists around the world can band together to share and multiply the beneficial impacts of their important conservation research.

If you would like to help OGL teach a new generation of marine stewards to work together to explore ocean biodiversity, please visit this link and donate generously.

We need your support by December 31. Please give now!

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