Little Cayman lab combats coral reef threats

Grant to pay for new wet lab

By February next year, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute’s research centre in Little Cayman should have a new outdoor wet lab to strengthen its ability to carry out experiments relating to climate change and coral reef stress. 

The United States National Science Foundation last month awarded a $203,911 grant to improve the scientific facilities the Little Cayman Research Centre. 

Carrie Manfrino, president and director of research and conservation at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, said: “The oceans are threatened like never before, from coral diseases, ocean acidification, climate change, non-native species and overfishing.  

“CCMI’s long-term commitment to monitoring the local coral reef biodiversity continues to be important for addressing some of the most significant challenges facing our over-crowded planet. This award from the NSF will enable CCMI’s in-house scientists, visiting scientists and universities to further explore these critical topics in one of the most under-developed regions in the Caribbean.” The grant will enable the Central Caribbean Marine Institute to build and equip a new coral reef stress wet lab at its Little Cayman Research Centre field station. It will have three primary wet lab work areas, including a covered screened area, a climate controlled area and a shaded screened area for experiments on climate change, ocean acidification, and fisheries management of lionfish and grouper.  

According to the National Science Foundation document relating to the grant, “The new wet lab will enable LCRC to (1) enhance their capabilities and capacity for simultaneous research and education activities; (2) improve the quality, quantity, and accessibility of information produced and available at LCRC; and (3) enable them to better serve US scientists and further develop collaborative partnerships with US institutions and government.” 

At the moment, the facility has an indoor wet lab, a dry lab and an air-conditioned laboratory that is used by scientists and students groups. But the absence of a dedicated outdoor wet lab has hindered some projects, said Kate Pellow, director of development and communications at the marine institute. 

She said installation of the outdoor wet lab, which will be installed immediately next to the existing laboratory, is expected to be completed by February. 

“When we designed the facility, it was originally a three-step plan. In the initial drawings, we knew we would expand and have a wet lab. The foundation work has already been done, so we’re going to erect the building on top,” she said. 

The Little Cayman Research Centre began operation in 2006 and offers visiting scientists and local and overseas students access to oceanographic facilities with which they can conduct field studies. It has hosted more than 90 visiting researchers and five major US universities include a visit to the centre as a permanent part of their curriculum.  

CCMI also offers educational and conservation outreach activities for local kindergarten through grade 12 Cayman Islands schools.  

Research at the centre has led to major breakthroughs, including the discovery of new marine meiofauna species, an improved understanding of deep reefs and new models for predicting coral bleaching and diseases. 

Ms Pellow said the National Science Foundation funds were granted following a rigorous checking process. “They look into, in minute detail, our finances and the work we do. The fact that they have given this award is almost as important as the actual money. It is saying that we are a credible scientific organisation and we meet their standards,” she said. 

The National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency created by the US Congress in 1950 to help promote the progress of science, has an annual budget of about US$6.9 billion and funds about 20 per cent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. 

CCMI Little Cayman

The Central Caribbean Marine Institute’s Little Cayman Research Centre will soon have a new wet lab. – PHOTO: NORMA CONNOLLY

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