Feature Friday: Katrina Hounchell

Hi, Katrina Hounchell! Welcome to ReefBites. 

Twitter: @k_hounchell

Website: hounchkc.wixsite.com/khounchell

Katrina is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University, and completed her M.Sc. at the University of South Carolina. Her research focuses coral bleaching and restoration by incorporating insights from genomics, ecology, and local community knowledge to understand how to effectively scale reef restoration globally in the face of climate change. Read more about Rachel’s work below! 

Location of fieldwork; why choose this location?

My fieldwork takes place in the Republic of Palau. Palau is home to a diverse and robust population of corals across many types of reefs, providing the opportunity to study coral bleaching across a wide variety of species and habitats. Palau is also a fantastic place for research because it is home to the Palau International Coral Reef Center, which provides opportunities for collaboration and the ability to perform lab-based experiments. 

What is the elevator pitch for your fieldwork project?

My research focuses on utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to study coral bleaching and restoration by incorporating insights from genetics/genomics, ecology, and local community knowledge to better understand how to effectively scale reef restoration globally in the face of climate change. Specifically, I am exploring the role of acclimation in coral thermal tolerance to understand if corals identified as able to withstand climate change will maintain that resilience when moved to new environments for restoration purposes. Additionally, I am working with local communities to establish a community-based coral nursery effort. 

Why is this research/project important and timely?

Coral reefs are critically important in shaping ecosystems that provide essential resources to a multitude of marine organisms and humans. While coral reefs are one of the most valuable ecosystems, they are also one of the most vulnerable. Coral reefs have been threatened globally by bleaching events sparked by an increase in ocean temperatures. While restoration efforts are growing globally, in order to create thermally tolerant nurseries and to supplement reefs with thermally tolerant corals we need to know that those corals can retain their tolerance after being moved to new environments. Additionally, many of these restoration efforts are expensive, technologically advanced, or location specific making them challenging to employ across the world. Community-based reef restoration that engages local community members in the design, implementation, and maintenance of nurseries is a feasible, alternative method to maintain long term coral nurseries across the globe.

Best and worst parts of your fieldwork:

The best part of fieldwork is getting to interact with my study species in a natural environment and diving in some of the most beautiful places in the world. I also love being able to collaborate with local community members and learn from their expertise – they know their ocean better than anyone! The worst part is sometimes it can be challenging to be away from home and loved ones for long periods of time. 

What advice would you give for successful fieldwork?

Be prepared for your best laid plans to go wrong and be flexible. Fieldwork is unpredictable and even when you have done everything you can to prepare, uncontrollable situations (i.e. poor weather) happen all the time and change your plans. It is essential to be able to quickly react to those changes in a calm and productive way. 

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