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NMSU biology professor to present on effects of climate change on coral reefs

A Regents professor in New Mexico State University’s biology department will give a presentation on a trip she and several students took to Hawaii to study coral-reef conservation as part of the College of Arts and Sciences’ “Global Connections” series.

a group of people posing with fish on ice
New Mexico State University's students visit the Hawaiian Fish Auction in Honolulu during their Sundt Honors College trip to Hawaii to study the effects of climate change on coral reefs. (Photo courtesy of Michele Nishiguchi)
students standing in a line in a fish pond
New Mexico State University's students work on Hawaii's Paepae o He’eia fish pond restoration during their Sundt Honors College trip to study the effects of climate change on coral reefs. (Photo courtesy of Michele Nishiguchi)
Students looking at sea urchin
New Mexico State University's students Kelcie Gerry, left, Ismael Torres, right, and University of Hawaii's graduate student Annick Cros look at a sea urchin at the Anuenue Sea Urchin Hatchery in Honolulu during the Sundt Honors College trip to Hawaii to study the effects of climate change on coral reefs. (Photo courtesy of Michele Nishiguchi)

The lecture begins at 5 p.m. on Wednesday Feb. 14 at the Health and Social Services Auditorium, Room 101A. The event is free and open to the public.

“Corals represent the ‘rain forests of the sea’ and are one of the major ecosystems in tropical oceans,” said Michele Nishiguchi. “They provide a multitude of habitats for many different kinds of animals, thereby providing refuge, food, and the ability to recycle nutrients.”

Corals represent only one percent of the marine environment but contain up to 25 percent of marine life, Nishiguchi said.

“Damage to the actual corals (which are animals) has a domino effect on the life that live/breed/feed/hunt on the reef,” she said. “Humans are also impacted, since we rely on food (fisheries), recycling of nutrients (carbon dioxide fixation as well as ammonia uptake) and a number of novel drug compounds have been produced from animals that live on the reef. Reefs also provide a barrier to coastal lands, and reduce the amount of damage created by hurricanes.”

Corals around the world are being damaged as a result of climate change induced by human pollution, carbon-dioxide production, and the proliferation of coral diseases induced by stress.

“The class was very interested in determining how Hawaii manages its offshore big tuna fisheries,” Nishiguchi said. “Some ideas that were generated from the case studies were accountability of fishing vessels on ‘take/catch’ per month, as well as investigating where most of the fish went (Japan – high grade sushi/sashimi).”

Students also investigated the role of ecotourism, and whether those businesses were actually using ‘green’ technologies to run their businesses,” Nishiguchi said.

The trip was offered as a Sundt Honors College trip and was taken by 12 students majoring in business, international studies, communication, biology, fish, wildlife and conversation ecology, and microbiology.

The Sundt Professorship was established to support the development of exceptional and innovative teaching ideas, and to foster unique, experience-based classes in the Honors College. Funded by the M. Eugene Sundt estate, the endowment permits the Honors College to appoint a Sundt professor for a two-year term. Nishiguchi held the position for the previous two years.

In the spring 2018 semester, the trip is being offered as a Faculty-Led International Trip and has eight students—most from biology and fish, wildlife conservation ecology, but also from kinesiology.

“Climate change is not only an issue for corals in Hawaii, but globally as well,” Nishiguchi said. “We should all take heed on our accountability to the environment since it is at a crucial tipping point—something that will no doubt impact our future generations to come.”

The “Global Connections” series features faculty members’ trips around the world. The purpose is to provide an opportunity for members of the campus and surrounding community to learn from NMSU professors about the kind of global first-hand experience they might otherwise never encounter.