Summer Centered: Natalie Goeler-Slough ’24 Is Helping to Preserve Coral Reefs
A summer internship at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology has her working on a variety of projects, including research on materials that could enhance the health of coral reefs.
Coral reefs occupy less than one percent of the sea floor but contribute to the welfare of roughly 25 percent of marine life. Their incredible significance in marine ecosystems, however, is threatened by warming oceans and other changes brought on by climate change and human actions. Natalie Goeler-Slough ’24 is hoping to help stem that tide.
During her internship this summer at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, a research facility associated with the University of Hawai'i, she has become part of the concerted effort to protect and preserve coral reefs. Based in Moku o Lo’e, or Coconut Island, a small island near O’ahu, Goeler-Slough has been contributing to a variety of projects in the institute’s Coral Reef Ecology Lab, including research on 11 different materials that could enhance the health of coral reefs and protect them from erosion. The internship is supported by the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center.
As they work to determine which materials have the best potential for helping to create an artificial reef, Goeler-Slough and her colleagues, including principal investigator Ku’ulei Rodgers, have been studying the recruitment rates of corals and other marine organisms in nearby Kāne’ohe Bay, as well post-settlement survivorship rates once the materials are deployed. Goeler-Slough has been working with lab members to analyze the health and growth of corals using advanced techniques such as pulse amplitude modulated fluorometry and three-dimensional photogrammetry.
On other projects, she has helped develop a database of the lab’s more than 1,000 coral skeletons and created coral displays for the lab to use in educational outreach. She’s also contributing to ecological monitoring in sites around O’ahu, including Hanauma Bay, the state’s first marine life conservation district, where scientists are using long-term monitoring to gauge changes in biological populations over time.
“As someone interested in pursuing marine biology after graduation, the institute is an extremely exciting place to do research,” she said.
Goeler-Slough’s interest in marine life extends back to early childhood, but further exploration of coral ecosystems in a Superlab course with Associate Professor of Biology Kristen Whalen solidified her desire to continue her research at the graduate level, where she can learn more about coral’s role in coastal resilience, marine biodiversity, and natural disaster prevention.
“Corals are fascinating organisms,” Goeler-Slough says. “There is so much interesting science to be done, which is especially important now while they are being threatened by climate change.”
Before going to Hawai'i, Goeler-Slough lacked field experience working with corals, but in her short time there she has learned about coral physiology and identification, as well as coral husbandry and methods for ecological monitoring. She’s found herself right at home among the marine life she’s studying.
“I’ve loved getting in the water for our ecological monitoring projects,” she says, “as well as collecting and re-planting corals that we use in our experiments.”