Coral reef conservation is a subject about which graduate student Jonathan Martinez is passionate.
As a PhD candidate in the UH Botany Department under Dr. Celia Smith, Jonathan collaborates with the Richmond Lab here at Kewalo investigating all aspects of coral reef conservation, including reproductive biology and recruitment ecology, coral spawning and fertilization dynamics, water quality monitoring, ecotoxicology, marine algal ecology and biochemistry, as well as different aspects of coral physiology.
Originally from Santa Fe, NM, Jon came to UH on scholarship to study marine biology and received his BS in Zoology. It was in his junior year, when he was awarded a research internship in the PBRC Haumana MARC U*STAR Minority Access to Research Careers program, that he first started his work with Dr. Richmond at Kewalo Marine Lab and his interest in coral reef conservation was sparked. After completing his degree in 2005, Jon decided to pursue his graduate education in coral reef conservation, continuing to work with the Richmond Lab.
In 2009 Jon became a NOAA Graduate Science Scholar with NOAA's Graduate Science Program, (student career experience program) through the NOAA Office of Education, with a detail at the Pacific Islands Region Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Jon is also a UH Graduate Professional Access Program Scholar.
Jon's dissertation research focuses on the physical and physiological impacts that invasive alien algae have on the coral reef habitat and on coral biology.
"Our marine species in Hawaii are extremely unique," Jon points out. "Stony corals in particular are the foundation of our reefs and are integral components to tropical marine ecosystems and social and cultural resources."
Video showing the lobate coral Porites hawaiiensis preparing to brood a planula. (Video by Jonathan Martinez).
Specifically, Jonathan investigates the physical impacts of algal canopies of the invasive red alga, Gracilaria salicornia, on the local coral reefs, including changes in available light, dissolved oxygen, pH, sedimentation, and hydrodynamics.
"Any one or a combination of these factors can influence various aspects of coral biology including larval recruitment, stress and mortality", says Jon, ultimately affecting the health of the reef.
"This alga is particularly detrimental to corals as it grows quickly and smothers benthic habitats, which native and indigenous organisms, such as coral", notes Jon. "In many cases, the alga directly smothers the adult corals".
Jonathan is investigating the interactions between the alga and the corals, tracking changes in the health of the coral and trying to understand the mechanisms involved in their competition. He also uses novel techniques to quantitatively assess the cellular stress a coral experiences when covered by algae, and to track the ability of the coral to recover if the algae is managed and removed.
This aspect of his research, and his work with the Richmond Lab, has also led to his active involvement in community outreach programs, including work with Mālama Maunalua, a grass-roots community organization created to help restore Maunalua Bay through the physical removal of tons of invasive mudweed that has been smothering the reefs in Maunalua Bay. The Richmond Lab has been working to characterize the sediment dynamics, the role of invasive algae in sediment retention and resuspension, and to measure the efficacy of the algal clearing in reducing sediment, and has served as technical advisor to The Nature Conservancy in this project.
"I enjoy working with the community to share awareness of the issues that affect Hawaii's coral reefs such as those in Maunalua Bay," says Jon. "I also enjoy applying science to conservation issues that can inform management."