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Images: Corals' Indispensable Bacterial Buddies

The high density of corals on this reef off Nukuoro atoll in Micronesia is analogous to a densely populated human city such as Manhattan or Los Angeles. WHOI scientist Amy Apprill thinks that bacteria may be aiding these corals in recycling their waste products and scavenging scarce nutrients. (Luis Lamar and Maryann Morin, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

This research project's "Team Microbe" included divers (from left) Matthew Neave (WHOI and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), Amy Apprill, Chad Smith (WHOI assistant marine operations coordinator), and Alyson Santoro (University of Maryland). The group sampled reefs throughout the Micronesian Islands, to learn more about the bacteria associated with corals. (Luis Lamar, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

WHOI scientist Amy Apprill removes small tissue samples from the corals to analyze microbes that have symbiotic relationships with the corals. (Photo by Alyson Santoro, University of Maryland)

Diving on the reef, scientists Amy Apprill and Matthew Neave place coral tissue samples in a sterile bag. They will preserve the tissue in order to study microbial organisms associated with the corals. (Photo by Alyson Santoro, University of Maryland)

A coral reef off Nukuoro atoll, Micronesia. WHOI scientist Amy Apprill is finding and studying bacteria and other microbial life associated with coral reefs.

(Luis Lamar and Maryann Morin, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Beams of sunlight on this coral reef provide the energy source for photosynthetic algae housed in the corals' tissues. (Luis Lamar and Maryann Morin, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

A close-up view of an Acropora coral reveals small individual coral polyps (the small button-like dots), but a microscope is required to study the corals' microbial partners. Scientists think that the purple tips of this coral protect the polyps from the high light levels they receive in shallow reef waters. (Luis Lamar, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Diver Whitney Bernstein (foreground), a graduate student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography, photographs vibrantly colored corals on the reef. (Luis Lamar and Maryann Morin, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The crystal clear waters of this Micronesian reef contain few nutrients, yet an abundance of diverse corals thrive here. (Luis Lamar, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Pink and purple corals color a reef off remote Nukuoro atoll, an island with a population of 370 people in the Federated States of Micronesia. The reefs start in shallow water and slope down into the ocean depths. (Luis Lamar and Maryann Morin, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

A massive Porites coral in Micronesia, several times the size of the person snorkeling above it. (Luis Lamar, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Water motion flowing past and across this reef brings nourishment for corals on the reef wall. The wall, in turn, provides the atoll protection from destructive waves. (Luis Lamar, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

A large Acropora coral colony (foreground) shares space with other corals on the reef. (Luis Lamar and Maryann Morin, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

A seemingly limitless field of corals of diverse shapes and sizes fades into the blue distance, yet this reef is a tiny fraction of the ocean, limited to a small and remote Micronesian atoll. (Luis Lamar and Maryann Morin, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

WHOI scientist Amy Apprill explores another coral reef area in Micronesia—a reef more sparsely populated with corals. (Photo by Alyson Santoro, University of Maryland)