Back to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Homepage
  • Connect with WHOI:

Images: Hidden Battles on the Reefs

Graduate student Tom DeCarlo, right, has sailed the world studying coral reefs, from the Caribbean Sea to the South China Sea. (Hanny Rivera, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
To study corals in the South China Sea, WHOI scientists set up a makeshift floating lab, strapping wooden planks across plastic tubes. (Kathryn Pietro, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
A makeshift boat carries equipment and the research team out to the coastal coral reefs that they will dive on to sample and study. From left, Tom DeCarlo, Kathryn Pietro, and Pat Lohmann of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Kristen Davis from the University of California, Irvine. (Lisa Hou, Academia Sinica)
On all coral reefs, an unseen tug-of-war is going on. While corals grow toward the sunlit surface, organisms called bioeroders—mollusks, worms, and sponges—bore into coral skeletons to find shelter. The bioeroders also sculpt nooks and crannies in the skeletons that create hiding places for other creatures. If all is in balance, the coral reef becomes a vibrant, diverse habitat (top). But if factors hinder coral growth or give bioeroders the upper hand, coral reefs will become flattened and die (bottom. (Illustration by E. Paul Oberlander, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
This coral off the coast of Panama shows holes bored into its skeleton by bioeroders. (Hannah Barkley, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
The research team has been studying this relatively acidic coral reef in the Palauan archipelago. Seawater pH on this reef today represents acidification levels predicted for tropical western Pacific by the end of the 21st century. (Tom DeCarlo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
To study a coral, Tom DeCarlo uses an underwater drill to extract a thin core of its skeleton. The drill hole is sealed with cement so that the coral can continue to grow. In about a year, the coral will have grown completely over the hole, leaving no trace of our sampling. (Anne Cohen, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
The CT scan images have a resolution of about the width of a human hair. The images show the borings made by bioeroders in the coral skeleton. (Tom DeCarlo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
The scientists used the Computerized Scanning and Imaging Facility at WHOI to get CT scans of their coral skeleton core samples. (Tom DeCarlo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is the world's leading non-profit oceanographic research organization. Our mission is to explore and understand the ocean and to educate scientists, students, decision-makers, and the public.
© Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Online edition: ISSN 1559-1263. All rights reserved