From 15 to 25 June 2018 and from 30 November to 06 December 2018
HAWAI’I 2018 MISSION- PACIFIC
Collaborative missions with the Monaco Scientific Center (CSM), the Hawai‛i Institute of Marine Biology of the University of Hawai’i and the Tara Foundation on the study of growth anomalies on coral colonies of the reefs of Moku O Lo’e Island.
Supported by Monaco Explorations, these two missions took place under the scientific direction of Dorota Czerucka, Director of Research and François Seneca, Researcher at the Monaco Scientific Center. Their aim: sampling corals exhibiting outgrowths. On these samples, the researchers identify the bacteria present to know their characteristics and their level of pathogenicity. If pathogenic bacteria are found, then the scientists try to identify the coral’s immune response. These studies allow progress in understanding the tumour cell formation mechanisms in living beings in general and are therefore of high interest for human biology.
The hypothesis of this research is as follows: environmental stress (human pollutions, rise in temperature, pH modification, etc.), in a given environment, could have an impact on the bacterial communities in direct contact with living organisms, including coral, which is the biological model studied here. These bacteria, according to their pathogenicity level, could have adverse consequences by triggering diseases, such as growth anomalies, on the organism in question.
Disease or not?
Abnormal growths affect more than 40 species of Scleractinian corals in the Indo-Pacific and Caribbean regions. Although these outgrowths are sometimes called tumours, their malignancy remains to be determined.
The study of these growths expands our knowledge of coral biology. The innate immunity of these organisms, several million years old, shows close similarities to humans.
Two species studied
- Porites evermanni (common name: lobe corals), the colonies are massive with a tendency to form columns. Generally mustard-coloured, sometimes light brown.
- Porites compressa (common name: finger corals ) (branched), the colonies form large reef platforms. The branches are cylindrical and thick.
Two species, two outgrowths
The outgrowths (abnormal cell reproduction) are different in the two species studied.
On Porites evermanni, a pink pigment appears, which is produced by the coral, as though to protect itself against an invader.
Porite compressa is a branched coral, which means that it normally develops in the shape of fingers. Abnormal growths develop in massive formations which are easily distinguished.
140 samples were collected altogether during this campaign.
The scientists set out to seek coral colonies with abnormal growths. Each time a sample is collected, a photo is taken to document the size and GPS coordinates. For each colony, 2 pieces are taken: a sample of healthy coral and a sample of abnormal coral. The samples are then kept in separate pre-labelled bags for the healthy and abnormal samples. The process is then repeated with a new colony.
The CSM, a multidisciplinary research centre.
The CSM is a research centre specialised in two key areas: medical biology and coral biology, with cross-expertise in these fields, as in the team of Dorota Czerucka, Director of Research of the Ecosystem and Immunity team.
D. Czerucka in the lab ©O.Borde_Monaco Explorations
Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology
The institute belongs to the University of Hawai’i. It is located on the small private island of Moku O Loʻe, also known as Coconut Island. The island has a rich and interesting history. To go to the island, an authorisation and a sponsor from the University are required. The documents must be presented to the operator of the ferry-boat which provides the transport to the island.
F. Seneca and D. Czerucka in the outdoor wet laboratory ©O.Borde_ Monaco Explorations
Laboratories made available
Hosted by the HIMB, the scientists use the laboratories present on Moku O Loʻe to preserve and process the samples.
Several methods are used: freezing for DNA extractions, transfer to liquid nitrogen for the processing of RNA and conservation of fragments in aquariums to ship them live to Monaco and observe their evolution in time.
Export of corals and biological material: the administrative component
This type of mission requires preliminary administrative procedures to obtain a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) export permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Services. This procedure, which requires patience and a network of contacts, is essential to limit the traffic of endangered species.
Reefs in Hawai'i ©O.Borde_Monaco Explorations
The reefs of Hawai'i
Less than 80 species are present on the reefs of Hawai’i against more than 500 species in the Coral Triangle (Pacific region between Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Solomon Islands). The three most common types of coral in Hawai’i are Porites (smooth coral), Montipora (flat coral) and Pocillopora (small branching coral).