Feature Friday: Or Ben-Zvi

Hi, Or Ben-Zvi! Great to have you on reef bites.

Or is currently a PhD student in the Loya Lab at Tel Aviv University and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, studying mesophotic coral physiology and fluorescence. Check out more of Or’s work below!

Give an elevator pitch of what your research/project is about.

My current study is focusing on testing the major hypotheses regarding coral fluorescence in the unique mesophotic ecosystem (30-150 m).  I also investigate the differences in physiology (i.e. photosynthesis, proteins and carbohydrates content, and oxygen evolution) between shallow (1-30 m) and mesophotic (30-45 m) corals.

Why is this research/project important and timely?

As the degradation of coral reefs continues, mesophotic coral ecosystem (MCEs) are receiving more attention as they may potentially serve as a refuge to shallow coral or may replenish the shallow reefs in case of their loss. Understanding the physiology of those corals and their similarities or uniqueness is crucial for assessing their potential role in the predicted ocean scenarios. As many efforts are invested in discovering their ecology and reproduction, my research is aiming at understanding their special photobiology, physiology and the striking occurrence of fluorescence at the deeper reefs.

What is the broader impact and implication of your findings?

Understanding their capabilities to survive and prosper in shallow environments through in situ transplantation experiments or lab-controlled manipulation I believe we will have a better understanding of shallow coral physiology and we will have a more accurate estimation of the potential rehabilitation of degraded coral reefs. Fluorescence is being widely used in biotechnology, and new fluorescent proteins are always in demand. Exploring mesophotic coral fluorescence may shed some light on this intriguing phenomenon that caught the attention of scientist throughout history and may lead to new discoveries in this field.

How did you come to work in this field/project?

I started my MSc in Yossi Loya’s lab, a group that focuses on stony coral reproduction. On my first field trip I came across a blue diving torch and went out for a night swim. The fluorescence was so intense and memorizing that I decided to go for it. In the last couple of years our lab focused on the MCEs of Eilat so naturally I got involved in that field of research as well.

Location of fieldwork; why choose this location?

Eilat, Israel. The reefs of the Red Sea are amazing. The marine station (The Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat) is a great facility, located right on the beach with the easiest accessibility to both shallow and mesophotic reefs and the best view as well.

Best and worst parts of your fieldwork:

Eilat is a desert, which is both good and bad. It gets extremely hot in the summer but we barely feel the winter, so all year long diving for us!

What advice would you give for successful fieldwork?

Observe and document everything! There are no second chances on some stuff. And of course, don’t forget to look around from time to time so you won’t miss that whale shark passing above your head…

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