Research Themes

A slideshow of images from field expeditions across the globe

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Nearshore Reefs - Chuuk, Micronesia
Nearshore Reefs - Chuuk, Micronesia

Although Chuuk is considered a divers paradise, it is not without human impacts. In 2013, we visited the coral habitats surrounding Chuuk and found evidence that coastal development and sewage pollution are likely contributing to the loss of corals, particularly branching staghorn corals. However, on the clean outer reefs of Chuuk Lagoon, corals were numerous, diverse, and apparently recovering rapidly from a major typhoon. photo by Ciemon Caballes

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Agriculture, Dangriga Belize
Agriculture, Dangriga Belize

Industrial agriculture is widespread in the Yucatan. Here, plantations like this are common in the lowlands. Industrial operations utilize synthetic fertilizers, which quickly seeps into the limestone and percolates in the ocean. It is virtually unknown what effect these agrochemicals have on reefs just 10km from shore.

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Food vs. Tourism
Food vs. Tourism

On a dock in Cancún, Mexico, we came across a small longliner's overnight catch... dozens of large sharks. Most of these were small silky sharks and larger bull sharks. The bulls were big enough to make you think twice of diving in Mexico. Nevertheless, I have never seen a shark in Mexico, and these mighty fish were taken far from shore. The meat was destined to local markets while the fins were bound for Asian soup bowls.

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Nearshore Reefs - Chuuk, Micronesia
Nearshore Reefs - Chuuk, Micronesia

Although Chuuk is considered a divers paradise, it is not without human impacts. In 2013, we visited the coral habitats surrounding Chuuk and found evidence that coastal development and sewage pollution are likely contributing to the loss of corals, particularly branching staghorn corals. However, on the clean outer reefs of Chuuk Lagoon, corals were numerous, diverse, and apparently recovering rapidly from a major typhoon. photo by Ciemon Caballes

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I am broadly interested in the ecology and resilience of tropical coral reef ecosystems in the midst of a myriad of human perturbations. Specifically, I am employing biogeochemical techniques to elucidate the effects of anthropogenic nutrient inputs on reef invertebrates. I have explored the connection between nitrogen isotope ratios and coral disease from Caribbean and Indo-Pacific reefs to test the hypothesis that human derived nutrients are exacerbating coral disease worldwide, which has led me to become an advocate for stable isotope monitoring (sources) as a supplement to conventional water quality programs (concentrations).



Additionally, I am determining how coral symbioses create records of environmental change. Using compounds enriched in heavy stable isotopes, I can trace the flow of light elements (carbon, nitrogen, sulfur) between the coral animal and its symbiotic algal symbionts. This work allows me to determine which corals are best for historical records of anthropogenic change, and offers some exciting new insights on the physiological ecology of the coral - algal symbiosis.