Second Coral Reproductive Season, Eilat, Israel

Putting my knowledge to the test

After acquiring so many new skills during the first reproductive season and during the SECORE workshop, I keenly returned to Eilat this time at the start of the planulation season in January. Unfortunately due to unforeseen issues with my Israeli visa my work in Eilat was again postponed until the last week of April.

However, having much more experience under my belt and detailed experimental plans, I was confident in my ability to produce quality results from this season. With the support of my Israeli supervisor Prof. Maoz Fine, I began to collect planulae from parent colonies in May. These colonies had been incubated in distinct environmental conditions since December.

Planulae collection


Mature adult colonies isolated in aquaria in order to collect planulae. Photo – J. Bellworthy

Planulae collection requires isolating each colony into separate aquarium tanks at dusk and waiting for planulae release. Planulation occurs roughly between 9 pm and midnight every night. I collected the resulting planulae with the aid of a blue light torch. Most corals and their planulae contain fluorescent proteins. These tissue proteins can be seen by us when we shine a blue light on the coral and look through a yellow visor (check out this awesome coral fluorescence footage shot by my friend Vanessa Cara-Kerr of Reef Patrol). This enables a researcher can see the planulae without having to turn on the lights in the aquarium, which would disturb the daily rhythms of the corals.

After collection, the planulae were sorted for the various needs of my experimental analyses. Some were transferred to the lab for processing whilst others were placed into tanks at different temperatures. I subsequently ran experiments to test the influence of the parental environment on the resulting thermotolerance of the planulae during their early life stages.

Five month old S. pistillata. Photo - J. Bellworthy

Five month old S. pistillata. Photo – J. Bellworthy

Five month old S. pistillata. Photo - J. Bellworthy

Five month old S. pistillata. Photo – J. Bellworthy

Night Shifts with S. pistillata

After 12 long nights working alone to collect and process S. pistillata planulae, I had more than enough yield from my parent colonies to complete my planned analyses. It is well known that Ph.D. students can feel isolated researching their individual specialised niche. Well, I can tell you that that feeling is amplified on night shifts when there is nobody about to share a coffee with! But in my view, these few weeks of up to 19 hour working days was worth it. I get great satisfaction out of the end product, which right now is some interesting results that will later contribute to a successful thesis. In addition, seeing the sunrise over the Jordanian mountains, lighting up the Red Sea is certainly something special to behold.
Other planulae collected from the reef continue to grow into juveniles in the Red Sea Simulator. They will serve to replenish our aquarium stock and may be used in future experiments.

Despite the once again reduced time I had to work within this season, I had some great successes. Results from the above study were presented as part of my poster at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium. I proved my techniques developed in the previous year work well. However there is always room for improvement! Therefore, I’m excited for the hard work and development to resume in the 2017 season.