Reef research center to help unlock, preserve sea treasures
Sun Sentinel, September 23, 2012
DANIA BEACH, FLA.
In a $50 million five-story brick and glass building in John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, researchers are taking the biomass of crustaceans to help study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, cultivating asexual staghorn coral and sequencing the genomes of sponges.
The answers they discover will help preserve an ecological resource — coral reefs and the life they support — that brings about $6 billion in tourism annually to five South Florida counties, including Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to a federal study.
That’s one of the reasons Nova Southeastern University built the new, 86,000-square-foot facility with 15 laboratories at the park. The Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystem Research, billed by the university as the country’s largest coral ref research facility, was built in part with a $15 million federal grant.
The same study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that estimated the value of coral reefs in tourism dollars also found that the reefs sustain about 71,000 jobs in South Florida, drawing tourists for snorkeling, diving and boat tours who eat in restaurants and sleep in hotels.
The new facility is bigger than Nova’s old reef research facility, has room for more scientists and is nearer to the reefs they study, said Shira Anteby, a second-year graduate student working on sponges. The large microbiology and genetics lab headed by Jose Lopez has a sponge sample tacked on the wall, next to a Sponge Bob Square Pants toy.
Coral is also key in keeping waves from eroding beaches too much, Lopez said. Without coral, local governments would have to do expensive beach renourishment projects more often.
New discoveries have already been made at the center, though only a few researchers have set up their labs. Lopez and his students discovered a new bacteria that lives in sponges and is related to cholera, he said.
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