|We are conducting our research on the corals bleaching in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu.|
We have a long list of suspects – the coral host, the symbiotic algae Symbiodinium, or the other coral-hosted bacteria. The evidence thus far has pointed to Symbiodinium as the perpetrator. And in fact, coral bleaching is attributed to overproduction of superoxide by Symbiodinium in response to light and temperature stress. But, has Symbiodinium received a fair trial? To date, the evidence against Symbiodinium has been indirect. There are no actual measurements of superoxide production from corals or the algae during the bleaching process and the source of and triggers for superoxide formation are not actually clear.
We hope to unravel this mystery – at least in part – by conducting the first field-based (in situ) superoxide measurements from bleaching and non-bleaching corals during the natural bleaching event occurring in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu. But collecting this evidence is tricky. Superoxide only has a lifetime of a few minutes. It’s hard to catch. There are no instruments that we can put in the water to measure it. But, we may have a way – by setting up a boat-based laboratory with an optimized detector system. By doing so, we hope to obtain clues as to whom is making superoxide, how this varies with coral species, and how superoxide links to coral bleaching. Is Symbiodinium truly to blame? The jury’s still out…