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Mote and Taiwan formalize major partnership in heat-resiliency coral research and restoration

by Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium 20 Mar 05:27 UTC
National Museum of Marine Science and Technology, Su-fen Chen, Delta Environmental and Educational Foundation, Shan-shan Guo, Mote President and CEO Dr. Michael Crosby, and National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquariu © Delta Electronics

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for international collaboration on heat-resilient coral research and restoration with three science-focused entities based in Taiwan and the U.S.: Delta Environmental and Educational Foundation, the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium (NMMBA), and the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology (NMMST).

The MOU establishes the first such international partnership between Taiwan and a major U.S. marine research and science education institution, and aims to address one of many stressors affecting coral reefs across the globe - rising ocean temperature, as coral reefs worldwide are experiencing the detrimental effects similar to what Florida's Coral Reefs experienced this past summer.

Delta, a global provider of power and thermal management solutions, focuses on addressing key environmental issues with innovative technology. As part of its mission, Delta has developed a coral restoration project, in collaboration with the NMMBA and NMMST, which aims to restore ten thousand corals over three years through continued efforts in propagation and breeding. The MOU establishes Mote as a key science partner in this coral restoration project, as it has led science-based restoration methods for over 30 years.

"We're pleased to partner and collaborate with researchers in Taiwan, and all around the world, as part of Mote's international marine science diplomacy initiative, that develop and deploy innovative science and technology to help solve the many challenges our oceans face," said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, Mote President & CEO. "Our shared oceans know no political boundaries and by exchanging knowledge and learning from each other, we will, together, enhance science-based coral resilience and restoration approaches despite the threats that we're seeing today, and what we can expect to see in the future. While this is a landmark new international partnership, I am especially pleased that we'll also be co-training skilled community volunteers to directly engage in science-based coral restoration, and will be establishing joint international high school programs to provide experiential learning opportunities for the next generation. All of these partnership research, education and public outreach activities will be highlighted in our new Mote Science Education Aquarium (Mote SEA)."

Global, regional, and local stressors have significantly contributed to the decline of our coral reef ecosystems. Living coral cover (the proportion of the reef covered in living coral) on Florida's Coral Reef is currently between just 1 and 5 percent, dramatically less than just 40 years ago when it was more than 30%. Many factors make a natural recovery of Florida's Coral Reef unlikely and nearly impossible on a timescale relevant to humans. The recovery of function on Florida's Coral Reef is likely now entirely dependent upon adaptive management and pro-active science-based restoration.

After Florida's Coral Reef experienced record-breaking heat waves starting in July 2023, with temperatures in adjacent backreef areas reaching temperatures above 100 degreesF, Mote witnessed its sexually produced resilient genotypes, despite the intense stress event, survived, thrived, and some never even bleached. Mote is focusing its efforts on carrying out more surveys of reefs to get a clearer picture of which corals survived and why, and adjust its efforts accordingly, while continuing to focus its efforts on expanding upon its comprehensive asexual and sexual reproduction methods for producing genetically resilient coral, and sharing its findings with partners in Taiwan and around the world.

"The Delta Foundation sent representatives to Mote last year to observe their coral bleaching rescue mechanism," said Ms. Shan-Shan Guo, Executive Director of the Delta Environmental and Educational Foundation. "We are honored to officially collaborate with Mote this year and will provide funding to support researchers at the NMMBA and the NMMST. Additionally, we will send volunteers from Delta's coral restoration project to the United States for exchange and learning. We hope that by enhancing coral bleaching early warning and rescue mechanisms, we can better prepare for the next coral bleaching event in Taiwan."

Delta has leveraged its own automation technology, equipment, and corporate volunteers to contribute to heat-resilient coral research and conservation efforts. Building upon the coral restoration project's success, Mote will learn more about these technologies, and how the intuition can incorporate it into its methods.

This MOU, signed by Mote President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby, Ms. Shan-Shan Guo, Executive Director of the Delta Environmental and Educational Foundation, Te-hao Chen, Vice Director of the National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium and Su-fen Chen Diretor-general of the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology, sets the framework for future collaboration between the organizations.

The MOU seeks to:

  • Establish an international research and public education platform focused on heat-resilient corals
  • Organize international training workshops
  • Conduct follow-up investigation for the corals in the seas around Florida and regularly share the results
  • Provide cross-training on observing and learning about coral early warning systems, coral bleaching restoration and rescue mechanisms, and the genetic cultivation of heat-resilient corals.
  • Develop science-based coral restoration training protocol for volunteers, and international training hubs in Taiwan and Florida.
  • Develop and implement joint high school experiential learning opportunities and STEM workforce training for high school and undergraduate students with an emphasis on coral genetics, ecology and restoration.
This collaboration with Taiwan expands Mote's International Marine Science Diplomacy Initiative, as Mote also continues to grow its US Harmful Algal Bloom Control Technologies Incubator with Japan, Chile and Korea; it's Global FinPrint project, the world's largest shark survey in 58 nations that has resulted in new international trade regulations for these species; it's coral reef research in Mozambique; as well as it's sharks and rays conservation work in Belize.

"Mote's collaborative research is as diverse as the ecosystems in which we are working. The diversity of perspective and experience has allowed us to transfer knowledge across oceans and implement processes that will benefit species near and far," said Dr. Crosby. "The information shared between global institutions are vital in making a difference for the future of our marine environment. We're pleased to enter into this MOU with Taiwan as an exciting new extension of our International Marine Science Diplomacy Initiative."

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