What would the oceans be without coral reefs? Understanding them is the first step to their conservation.
Coral reefs worldwide are being disturbed and destroyed at a rate potentially faster than we have time to understand them. Octocorals (aka soft corals) make up an important part of coral reefs by providing habitat, food sources, and a variety of other ecological functions for numerous marine organisms. My research contributes to an inventory and analysis of the resources within coral reefs by uncovering the elemental composition of the internal central axis of a group of octocorals.
I collect this quantitative data by extracting, embedding, and polishing cross sections of octocoral axes found within the California Academy of Sciences’ collections. I then use energy dispersive spectrometry (EDS) to obtain elemental composition weight percent values to compare organisms on the species, family, and order level.
So little is currently know about octocoral community structure and distribution patterns. If this research is not conducted now we may lose the opportunity to ever understand the richness of these communities before they are completely depleted. Studying octocorals more closely will lead to understanding their role in benthic ecosystems, which is necessary to advise international conservation strategies for these significant habitat-forming organisms and their associated communities.
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ABOUT THE SCIENTIST
Hello friends! My name is Alexis Weinnig and I am a marine scientist with a passion for the health of our oceans and their inhabitants. I was captivated by the magnificence of marine life from an early age, and upon high school graduation, decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in Biological Oceanography at Florida Institute of Technology. It was there that I had my first taste for research and since then my interest has grown immensely. From time on the research vessel, to hours of microscope work counting plankton samples, to presenting my findings at a symposium, I have never felt more at home. Through my studies I became increasingly interested in organisms that have diverse distributions, especially when they are able to live in both shallow regions and areas of great depth. Octocorals possess these qualities and have become the center of my passion.
Currently, I am pursuing my master’s degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology at San Francisco State University. Through this program I am partnered with Dr. Gary Williams, a curator of Invertebrate Zoology and an octocoral specialist, at the California Academy of Sciences. After completion of my master’s degree I plan to pursue doctoral work in deep sea coral reef exploration, diversity, and conservation.
In addition to research, I am very enthusiastic about public outreach. I am currently a Graduate Assistant for Teacher and Youth Education at the California Academy of Sciences and I truly believe there is no better way to save our blue planet than by instilling a sense of awe and responsibility in our youngest citizens.
Visit the website of Sean Edgerton to learn more about his scientific illustrations!