SECORE's first Research Director: a fresh breeze with renowned expertise
Dr. Margaret Miller has worked for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S.) for the past 19 years, “which has been a great privilege”, she says. “I have had the opportunity to conduct field research as well as participate in important conservation and policy endeavors by providing scientific advice and evaluating available scientific information. I participated in the status review, listing, and recovery planning for the US Endangered Species Act implementation which have resulted in listing and substantive recovery and restoration investment for Caribbean staghorn and elkhorn coral.” Margaret is a renowned scientist and conducted her studies on coral reproduction and larval ecology in the Florida Keys since 2000.
photos: left) Margaret Miller at work during coral spawning season; mid) endangered elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, Paul Selvaggio; right) collecting coral gametes, Reef Patrol
Coral reef restoration is not yet as applicable as practitioners may wish for. SECORE's approach to mainly work with sexually derived coral recruits (SExual COral REproduction) has been developed greatly over the last years, thereby working with basic research and pilot field studies alike. Still, there is a lot to do! “We urgently need to further develop the knowledge and technology to increase coral restoration to a much more significant scale than it is currently possible”, says Dirk. “The task is huge, but I am confident that we will manage this together with our partners and supporters, and with our newly staffed team.”
A recent addition to this team will be Margaret's expertise. "I am excited at the prospect of coordinating research across SECORE's field sites spanning the Caribbean basin in order to address some of the remaining knowledge gaps that hinder large scale recruitment success of larval outplants", she says. "We are at a crucial juncture, in which the fate of coral reefs is largely in jeopardy. I feel that SECORE is poised to play an instrumental role in altering this fate and giving corals a viable future." Margaret will provide research direction to address both near short term logistical and ecological questions―for instance, how do we get the baby corals to grow up with greater success? As well as evolving novel approaches to enhance resilience to environmental threats―e.g., utilizing existing genetic variability in coral and symbionts to foster greater thermo-tolerance or disease resistance in restored coral populations.
photos: left) coral spawning close-up, mid) coral recruit glowing under fluorescence light, right) tiny coral colonies on settlement substrate; all screen shots from SECORE - the film by Reef Patrol
Margaret grew up in Indiana, USA, very far from the sea indeed, but she and her parents spent many family vacations exploring coral reefs across the world. "Our first visit was to the US Virgin Islands when I was 8 years old. My parents, being the intrepid adventure travelers they were, dutifully visited the sporting goods store in 'Smalltown' Indiana―in February of 1978―to buy snorkeling gear for this adventure. Unfortunately, the kiddie mask and snorkel available were suited more for the bathtub than the ocean and I had a bad experience with lots of seawater in nose and eyes this first snorkel outing. However, my parents were hooked. My father returned home and immediately signed up for SCUBA certification and as my access to decent equipment and underwater skills improved, I, too fell in love with the coral reef world."
During her graduate studies Margaret focused on coral ecology. While her dissertation actually addressed temperate corals in North Carolina, she had the opportunity to attend several coral reef research cruises during her PhD. Later, she studied coral spawning in the Florida Keys and has now spent the past 23 years living in Miami and researching coral ecology and restoration in south Florida reefs. “And”, Margaret says with a twinkle, “one of the things I am looking forward to in my SECORE role is getting to know and work on reefs outside the Keys, as I know they do not typify Caribbean reefs.”
A warm welcome, Margaret―great to have you on board!
photo: Caribbean reef site, Paul Selvaggio