Lindsay MacMillan headshot.

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I am interested in how anthropogenic pollution such as untreated sewage waste, fertilizer, industrial byproducts and pharmaceuticals is affecting coastal regions, particularly in developing and under-developed countries.

By analyzing the isotopic composition of coral skeleton, I hope to evaluate whether excess nitrogen from anthropogenic pollution (δ15N) has increased over the last 20 years. This is because reef-building corals continue growing their skeleton throughout their lifetime and can be analyzed similarly to looking at a tree’s rings. Concurrently, I use another cnidarian called the upside-down jellyfish (Cassiopea spp.) as a model organism to test the hypothesis that excessive nutrient input into coastal waters negatively impacts its life cycle and the symbiotic relationship between the host and the algae living and photosynthesizing within its cells.

The importance of cnidarian-algal symbioses in the sustainable conservation of coral reef and coastal ecosystems can hardly be overstated. The health of reef-building corals depends largely on the quality of the ambient water, which changes under different anthropogenic pressures. In turn, these corals determine the community structure of the reef ecosystem by providing homes to numerous marine organisms, which then provide sustenance to island communities.

Therefore, understanding the health of reef ecosystems and the symbiotic relationships within them is crucial to the economic stability of many developing island countries in the Caribbean. While these countries recognize and welcome tourism as an asset to their economies, they are susceptible to mismanagement of their natural resources because they often lack the infrastructure to handle large increases in tourism. My goals here at UAB are to provide evidence that nutrient pollution is happening when and where tourism is increasing in the Bahamas, and to inform managers or government officials about the health and potential trajectory of their most important natural resource.

Faculty Advisor: Dustin Kemp

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