Introduction (Expedition Mo’orea)

The sandy shores are beckoning and the warm waters are calling. The waves are crashing and the sun is shining. Surrounding the tropical island of Mo’orea, a vibrant shallow-water ecosystem is bubbling with colorful life. And in less than a week, there will be additions to the underwater community: a scientific duo composed of Dr. Jerome Payet and yours truly. We can’t wait to join the beautiful fish and gorgeous corals. For now, though, we are still in the wonderful little town of Corvallis, Oregon, and we’re rushing to finish some projects while packing for our trip.

Jerome and I work in the microbiology lab of Dr. Rebecca Vega Thurber at Oregon State University. Among other things, we study the microbes associated with corals. Of the many reasons we find our work interesting, these are my favorites:

1) We live in a world ruled by microbes. Although most people don’t think about them much, the fact is that viruses, bacteria, and other microbes affect our lives (and the lives of all organisms) in ways we’ve only just begun to understand. Because all organisms evolved in the presence of microbes, they are often dependent on them for things like basic nutrition or even developmental cues. And microbes fight and compete with each other just like larger organisms – good guys often help us fight off bad microbes that cause disease. Studying the ecology of microbes helps us to understand general conditions that encourage or discourage cooperation between microbial communities and larger host organisms like us.

2) Coral reefs are globally important ecosystems which are in rapid decline worldwide. There are many indirect reasons for their decline, but two important coral-killers contribute significantly to the trend: infectious disease and ‘bleaching’. Both are caused by disruption of the normal interactions between corals and microbes. We want to know what we can do to prevent this.

3) You can’t beat the fieldwork!

During our stay on Mo’orea, Jerome and I will be performing an experiment aiming to assess how nutrient pollution affects the viral communities associated with corals. To do so, we’ll be diving on some of the island’s natural reefs and working at the French research station CRIOBE. In addition to the science-y work we’ll be doing, both of us are fond of (but new to) photography. Although we’re not exactly professionals, we think it’ll be pretty hard to avoid taking some nice shots of the island and reefs. Pretty soon, I should be able to start posting pictures and updates that are a little less ‘dry’!