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USF researchers help study Fiji reefs

In light of worldwide coral reef decay, USF's College of Marine Science (CMS) teamed up with the University of Fiji to expand research into mapping coral reefs.

“By helping the researchers in Fiji to develop the skills to use the technology available to us, we can get a better idea of how different areas of the world are experiencing climate change that we would otherwise not be able to study with our relatively limited resources,” Matt McCarthy, a graduate assistant at CMS, said.

The University of Fiji reached out to USFSP to work together on the project, which trains Fijian researchers to monitor coral reefs using satellite technology.

McCarthy travelled to Fiji to research in June 2016. He said CMS is well-qualified to train researchers in mapping coral reefs because they study the ecosystems in the Florida Keys.

“Our lab has been working for the past few decades in coral reef research to monitor coral in the Florida Keys and understand how it’s changing,” he said.

McCarthy said the research in Fiji will help locals understand the way their oceanic environments are changing. The research will also be used to teach classes at the University of Fiji.

“The [University of Fiji] will continue collecting that data over time so that they can map the coral reefs into the future and see how and where coral reefs are changing along Fiji,” he said.

The research will utilize satellite technology. The satellite, known as WorldView-2, orbits the earth and takes high-quality images regularly.

“[It’s] able to map with greater accuracy than ever before,” McCarthy said. “We can see really small changes now on a regular basis.”

Mapping coral reefs is important because of the large quantity of species that they house and feed, said Gerardo Toro-Farmer, a postdoctoral researcher at CMS.

“At the same time [reefs] are quite fragile, so they can get lost really quickly if we increase the temperature, if we increase acidification in the ocean,” he explained. “Many different pollutants can damage corals. So, if we lose corals, we’re going to lose a lot of species and a lot of habitats.”

The goal of the research is to help the Fijian government implement policies that will “mitigate against climate change, coastal development or coastal pollution,” said McCarthy.

“Hopefully the results of this project will inform management while also building the capacity of Fijians to better monitor and understand their coastal environment,” he said.