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Ruth Gates, a researcher at HIMB

Ruth Gates, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) has won an international competition by proposing to develop stocks of corals with an extended functional range and resilience to the more acidic and warmer conditions predicted for the oceans of the future.

The winning concept titled “Building a biological toolkit to mitigate ocean acidification impacts and restore corals reefs,” is led by Gates and Madeleine van Oppen, senior principal research scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. They submitted their concept in response to the Ocean Challenge: Mitigating Acidification Impacts issued by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation in collaboration with The Oceanography Society.

“Human-assisted evolution for corals is a radical departure from the conservation perspective traditionally applied in the field,” said Gates. “It’s often confused with GMO-type approaches in which foreign DNA is introduced, but in reality, we are proposing to accelerate naturally occurring evolutionary processes.”

The winning proposal was selected from a pool of 36 concepts from 7 countries around the world.

Restoring coral reefs

Gates and van Oppen propose to build a stock of super corals that are equipped to survive the conditions in oceans of the future. “Our goal is to develop and maintain banks of ecologically important, structurally diverse and geographically widespread coral species,” said van Oppen.

As test cases, Gates and van Oppen propose to use their modified coral stocks to both restore a denuded reef and to ‘green’ a concrete artificial reef, demonstrating that over time, full reef services can be restored. This greening effort reflects a growing trend in physical restoration projects that seek to protect coastlines where native corals in barrier reef populations have been destroyed.

“The results of this project have the potential to transform our capacity to preserve and restore coral reefs and to sustain human services in a future characterized by more acidic and warmer coastal waters,” said Gates.

For more information on this award, read the UH Mānoa news release.

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