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  • Anna Weiss

Introducing Our New Climate Resilience Fellow

My name is Anna Weiss, and I am the new Climate Resilience Fellow at UB ERI. I received my B.A. from Stony Brook University in 2012 and my Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 2019. My background is in geology and paleontology (of reefs in particular). For my Ph.D. I studied how corals and reefs survived a rapid climate change event that occurred 56 million years ago and is similar to the climate change we are experiencing today. I am excited to take my knowledge and skills to study modern reefs in Belize, and what makes them resilient.

At UB ERI, I will be focusing on the Turneffe Atoll, a vital reef system off the coast of the Meso-American Barrier Reef, the second-largest barrier reef in the world! My goal is to answer the following questions: What are the major stressors to the Turneffe Atoll reef, how has the reef displayed resilience in the past, and can we use this information to inform conservation practices? I will work with Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts and the rest of the Coastal Resilience Team to take drill cores from around Turneffe. Reef cores record all sorts of information about the past; from which organisms built the reef and how fast they grew, to what the conditions of the ocean were. I will collect and synthesize this information to understand the timescales of different disturbances and how they have previously affected the reef. I will also search for evidence of past resilience by studying the coral skeletons. We can then focus restoration efforts in areas that have historically been less prone to stress or have displayed resilience. Additionally, we can pinpoint which stressors have the most substantial effect on reef health, and tailor management and policy recommendations around that information.

I will also establish a baseline for carbonate budgets at Turneffe, which is simply how much carbonate (the hard part of the reef) is being produced minus how much is being eroded. Carbonate budgets are a critical aspect of reef health because they can tell us if the reef has slowed its growth or if the structure is becoming degraded, even if there are still corals present. We may also find that in spite of coral loss the reef is still growing, therefore providing the benefits we expect from the reef, such as habitat for fish and crustaceans, and a barrier from waves and storms. Carbonate budgets can also tell us if there are changes in the number of grazers, an essential functional group on coral reefs. This work will be complementary to existing ecological monitoring at Turneffe and will help us define "reef health" more holistically.

I am also passionate about education and outreach. As a Ph.D. student I spent a lot of time practicing communicating science. At UB I will have the opportunity to teach within the Natural Resource Management program and participate in outreach events. I look forward to getting to know the students at UB, and to work with the staff, volunteers and interns at UB ERI to improve the health of coral reefs in Belize!

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