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Maya Walton was selected to be an Executive Fellow in the office of National Marine Sanctuaries (US DOC, NOAA, NOS, ONMS).
In addition to being a habitat with one of the highest rates of biodiversity, coral reefs have vast ecological, economic, and cultural importance. Unfortunately, reefs worldwide are on the decline. Coral disease has been identified as one of the major causes for coral mortality and is a top concern for the conservation and preservation of coral reefs. Walton's research aimed to improve understanding and management of marine resources in the state of Hawai‘i by investigating the effectiveness of Marine Life Conservation Districts (MLCDs). Management actions, such as the use of MLCDs, which enhance fish abundance and diversity, could have important downstream impacts on coral health and coral reef resilience.
Ecosystem resilience can be defined as the ability of the coral reef system to maintain key functions in response to environmental stressors. For example a resilient reef may face the stress of a coral disease outbreak but still be able to adapt or bounce back from the change. Walton investigated coral reef health in Oahu’s three Marine Life Conservation Districts compared to three adjacent unprotected reefs.
Field surveys were used to quantify coral disease prevalence, coral cover, macroalgal cover, fish abundance and diversity, and coral community size structure at each of the sites. Environmental variables including temperature, sediments, rugosity, and water motion were also measured. Biological and environmental parameters as well as protection status were used in a statistical model to determine what variables were the best predictors for coral reef ecosystem health and coral disease prevalence. These data can be used to better understand how to identify reef areas that will be most robust to disease threats and will provide important baselines to compare and measure coral health in the future.
2525 Correa Road HIG 238 Honolulu HI, 96822