Marhaver Lab/Creative Coral Science for Reef Recovery
Coral reefs cover less than one percent of the seafloor, yet they house approximately 25% of all species in the ocean. Globally, coral reefs are worth US$1 Trillion per year through fisheries production, drug discovery, shoreline protection, and the creation of tourism jobs. However, compounding stressors—especially coastal development, overfishing, sewage input, fertilizer runoff, and temperature shock—are causing critical declines in the reproductive output and genetic diversity of coral populations.
To complement coral conservation on the policy scale, innovative technical solutions are needed at the reef scale. Dr. Kristen Marhaver’s research lab fills an important niche by studying reproduction in the Caribbean’s most fragile corals and inventing new tools to help them survive. This includes decoding the reproductive behavior of understudied species through traditional natural history and combining advanced methods from diverse fields of science and engineering.
Since 2012, Dr. Marhaver has directed projects that produced novel breeding techniques for endangered coral species, novel 3D-printed surfaces to improve the settlement rates of coral larvae, and novel probiotic bacterial treatments to enhance the survival of juvenile corals. The Marhaver Lab is based in Curacao, where healthy, near-shore reefs allow for productive research and experimentation year-round.
The Lab’s three-year mission is to develop, optimize, and share improved settlement surfaces and effective bacterial probiotics for ten coral species, including all Caribbean corals on the Endangered Species List. Looking ahead, we seek to decode the reproductive biology of every Caribbean coral species in Curacao, approximately 70 species in total.
Building on our proof-of-concept achievements in each of these areas, The Marhaver Lab is working to create and distribute a suite of effective and scalable tools for application in coral restoration. Current goals include:
- Developing bacterial probiotics that improve survivorship for ten coral species
- Developing settlement surfaces that improve survivorship for ten coral species
- Successfully rearing juveniles of all Caribbean corals on the U.S. Endangered Species List
- Openly sharing knowledge and methods with researchers, restoration groups, and the Caribbean Coral Restoration Consortium
- Reporting progress as it happens, through broad and effective science communication
Dr. Kristen Marhaver is a marine biologist working to help corals reproduce successfully in future oceans. She works among an expert team of coral scientists in Curacao while supervising and mentoring students from around the world. Her research has been covered by hundreds of media outlets including NPR, BBC, The Atlantic, Popular Science, and TED. Her honors include five fellowships and grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, multiple awards for science communication, a TED Senior Fellowship, a WINGS Fellowship, and selection as a World Economic Forum Young Scientist.