University of Derby coral research idea wins international award

17 September 2019

A University of Derby researcher has received an international award for his idea to help conserve and restore the world’s coral reefs by identifying and quantifying a previously overlooked key threat to their existence.

Researcher Till Roethig, based at the University’s Aquatic Research Facility, has been named as the recipient of this year’s Ruth Gates Memorial Award by the International Coral Reef Society.

The award comes with a $5,000 research grant to develop solutions to restore and conserve coral reefs endangered by climate change.

Till’s proposal outlined research he plans to carry out in Derby to establish how the effect of climate change on the salinity of sea water is linked to the thermal sensitivity of corals.

Till said: “Coral reefs are under critical decline from rising temperatures globally, but low salinity seems to decrease the thermal tolerance of corals. High temperatures in particular, but also low salinity, can cause coral bleaching and mortality – the main reason why we have lost globally about 50% of coral since 2015. For corals to withstand rising temperatures for longer, the interactive effects with salinity may be crucial. The whole topic could have massive implications for coral restoration and conservation, and yet it is largely overlooked.” 

He added: “I am delighted to receive the Ruth Gates Memorial Award. For me, the award means an international recognition of the importance of the work we are doing in the field of coral research at the University of Derby, and its potential implications for the protection and regeneration of reefs across the world.”

The Aquatic Research Team at Derby has investigated the conditions of coral reefs around the world, in locations such as Australia, Indonesia, Fiji and Palau. The team is working on a four-year project funded by the European Union to develop human-assisted evolution of corals, helping to restore reefs which have been damaged by the effects of climate change. That work includes methods developed at Derby to help juvenile corals to survive and reach adulthood. The research has been shown to increase the survival rates of young corals by 50%.

Dr Michael Sweet, Associate Professor and Head of the Aquatic Research Facility at the University of Derby, said: “This award is a significant honour for Till and the University of Derby. We are at the forefront of research which could restore some of our planet’s most fragile ecosystems, and this accolade, and the accompanying grant, could help us to find solutions to another of the identified threats to the survival of corals.”

Dr Ruth Gates was an esteemed coral reef scientist, based in Hawaii, who died unexpectedly in 2018. The award established in her memory aims to support research in the topics in which she also worked.

The award nominations were considered by a panel of experts, including former colleagues of Dr Gates.

For more about the University of Derby’s research on coral reef conservation, visit our website.

Picture of researcher Till Roethig with sky in the background
Till Roethig