Coral taxonomy

 If Maikani had a catchphrase, it would be "I gotchu." She says it all the time. Ask her to hand you something - "I gotchu." Ask her what time it is - "I gotchu." Assign her a task, and she listens carefully, then finishes with "I gotchu."  

You can imagine my surprise when I finished explaining to Maikani my expectations for her coral project,  and she turned silently to her computer screen. No "I gotchu" at all. With one hand, she maneuvered the mouse to open a photo, and with the other hand, she flipped to a page in the ID book I had given her. She even had the Corals of the World website open before I could say anything. It was like she had gone into auto-pilot. She knew exactly what she was doing. 

Maikani knows corals not just because of her previous research experience. Corals are part of her identity. You see, she grew up in Palau, an island nation in the tropical Pacific that has become a world leader in ocean conservation. I've conducted research in Palau since 2018, experienced the culture, learned the historyexplored the islands - but my four years are no match to Maikani's lifetime. There are corals in her veins. 

I first met Maikani last spring. We wanted to hire a local college student to help out with the field work, and Maikani had by far the most impressive application. She did such a good job with our team that I invited her to join me in Woods Hole for an extended internship. She's here now, having made the long trek to Massachusetts, and is embedding herself in the WHOI research community while continuing to study her home environment of Palau. 

A juvenile coral. I think this one is Pocillopora.
At first glance, Maikani's project seems pretty simple: look at a bunch of photos, and identify each coral to species. But what's different about this project is that most of the corals she'll be identifying are juveniles. I've become obsessed with finding juvenile corals on the reefs at each of our sites. I want to know what species are settling at each reef and how they compare to the species composition of adults at the same sites. There are distinct differences in the adult communities between sites, so what drives that? Are larvae staying close to home, and only species that are already present at a site can settle there? Are there some species that settle far from home? What does all of this mean for the connectivity and colonization of coral reefs? 

After trying several different methods, I figured out that the easiest way to find juvenile corals was to go to where they were - on the reef. I stuck a macro lens on my camera and photographed them in situ. The sampling is easy enough, but identifying all the species is entirely another matter. I'm grateful for Maikani's expertise as she spearheads the analysis - she's got this.