CCMI chief gets prestigious Fulbright scholarship

Research will focus on how reefs can protect against sea-level rise

The head of a Cayman Islands marine research center has been granted the prestigious U.S. Fulbright Scholar Award to study the potential of coral reefs in protecting small island nations against the impact of climate change. 

Carrie Manfrino, who heads Little Cayman’s Central Caribbean Marine Institute, said her work would examine the threat of rising sea levels to coastal communities in tropical regions and the potential for healthy coral reefs to buffer these threats. 

She was awarded the scholarship through the South and Central Asia Research Program and her study will focus primarily on the Indian Ocean chain of the Maldives. 

Started in 1946, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government for the exchange of students in education, culture and science. 

Ms. Manfrino said it was an honor to be a Fulbright scholar. 

She said her work would build on years of study on coral reefs off Little Cayman and the results would be internationally relevant. 

“The effects of climate change and sea level rise are global issues not only impacting far away places, but also relevant to all coastal communities,” she said in a statement through CCMI. 

Ms. Manfrino will work with the Maldives National University to explore “Coral Reefs as Prospects for Protecting the Republic of the Maldives from Sea Level Rise.” 

According to CCMI, “Nature-based solutions to climate change impacts may prove to be the most economically effective strategy for reducing risk.” 

The statement added, “The research will explore some of the most remote atolls in the Indian Ocean and builds on 15 years of Caribbean research demonstrating an unusual positive trajectory for corals at Little Cayman.” 

The work will examine “physical, ecological, and societal interactions” that are critical to maintaining healthy coral reefs, which researchers say can be a natural line of defense for coastal communities. 

The research team will also examine coral skeletons, which they believe hold the key to understanding historic climate change events. 

“We are interested in detecting globally relevant climate change events in the skeletons of corals from the Indian Ocean (Maldives) and Caribbean Sea (Little Cayman Island),” said Ms. Manfrino. 

“Coral core samples will be taken from long-lived massive-growing corals, which preserve the history of growth and seawater conditions in their skeletons for several centuries. The information from coral skeletons can help detect human influences on coral regeneration and on oceanographic processes.”