Environmental DNA

Our eDNA project team and research collaborators have continued their pioneering work using a genetic sampling technique that is revolutionizing the way we look at biodiversity in the ocean. Our work is currently funded by BOEM, NASA, and NOAA as part of the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON). In September, the eDNA team spent ten days aboard the R/V Western Flyer to continue eDNA sample collections for the Monterey Bay Long Term Monitoring Program, the results of which are adding to our understanding of the biodiversity and community dynamics in Monterey Bay over the last decade.

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Review Fact Sheet
BBC Podcast with COS Early Career Fellow Collin Closek
Review published paper

"Bright Spots" Research

The Bright Spots research project was one of the largest global studies of its kind, a collaboration of researchers from around the world—including from COS—who synthesized data from over 6,000 reef surveys in 46 countries across the globe. In this study, 15 "bright spots" were discovered—places where, against all the odds, coral reefs were doing better than expected. By virtue of the breadth of the survey, researchers identified several social-ecological characteristics that improved the state of coral reef ecosystems.

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Review published paper



The Center for Ocean Solutions is excited to release our first episode in our new Series of Solutions video series: The Mentors and the Intern.

Series of Solutions: The Mentors and the Intern

This first episode highlights the valuable role that nature provides in protecting coastal communities, and follows the story of intern Monica Moritsch as she discovers how her ecology background can directly inform coastal policy.

Natural habitats, such as wetlands and sand dunes, play an important role in protecting coastal communities from climate change impacts including sea level rise, erosion, and storm surge. The Center for Ocean Solutions is working with the Natural Capital Project, city planners, and many other collaborators to develop map-based online tools to help cities across California identify vulnerable coastlines and prioritize the protection of habitats that provide the most protection to these regions.

​The Series of Solutions, supported in part by Conservation Media Group, features four ocean research endeavors led by Center for Ocean Solutions or Stanford University researchers. The Series also focuses on the critical role that early career scientists are playing in ocean research, whether through doctoral research, internships, or fellowships. We hope that this series not only brings to light some of the innovative solutions our researchers are finding to address ocean challenges, but also emphasizes the importance of mentorship, interdisciplinary, and teamwork in scientific research. ​

Watch the Video on YouTube here


Where: Moss Landing Marine Labs
When: Saturday, April 8th, 9:00am-4:00pm
Register HERE by March 31st

Monterey Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education (MARINE)’s 8th Annual Oceans Colloquium: Make Your Message Matter

The 2017 Oceans Colloquium is a conference-style event focused on improving science and policy communication and presentation skills. The colloquium will provide participants with the opportunity to develop and practice effective communication skills, while sharing their ocean-related work and interests in diverse and engaging ways.

Join us for a diverse set of activities, including:

  • Keynote Speaker: Jenn Philips, Ocean Protection Council
  • Short Talks
  • Interactive Demonstrations
  • Breakout Sessions
    • Storytelling
    • Video Communication
    • Getting Involved in Ocean Policy
    • Citizen Science in Your Research


Free and open to participants from MARINE's seven partner campuses. Includes morning refreshments, lunch, and afternoon happy hour.



For more information, and to register, visit: http://marineucsc.wixsite.com/2017oceanscolloquium







WATCH a short video about this research.

Stanford marine biologists have discovered that corals activate a specific group of ancient, defensive genes when exposed to stressful environmental conditions. These stress-induced genes could serve as a kind of warning sign for coral bleaching events.

In the study, researchers monitored three coral colonies in a lagoon on Ofu Island, American Samoa, for their response to stressors like high temperatures, oxygen, and ocean acidity. On the hottest days, the researchers saw a significant change in which genes the corals were activating within their cells.

“They started using a whole set of genes that they had just not been using before,” said Steve Palumbi, a professor of marine sciences, director of Hopkins Marine Station, and an author of the paper that outlines the study, recently published in Science Advances.

A snapshot of coral health

In 2016, the Great Barrier reef saw the worst coral bleaching event on record as corals across hundreds of miles turned stark white. These bleaching events can eventually lead to coral death. Scientists predict that global climate change and the continued increase in ocean temperatures will increase the frequency of coral bleaching worldwide. The tricky part is, corals don’t show visible signs of bleaching beforehand. The genes identified in this study could give scientists a snapshot indication of coral health – and an idea of when bleaching is likely to occur.

Under stressful conditions, a coral’s normal cellular functions begin to fail. In response, the group of genes identified in this study triggers a process, called the unfolded protein response, that works to restore normal conditions within the cell. If conditions continue to worsen, the corals bleach and eventually die.

“For the first time, we are able to ask those corals, ‘how are you doing?’ They don’t have a heartbeat. They don’t have a pulse. We need to know their vital signs in order to understand how they react to the environment,” Palumbi said.

Over the course of the seventeen-day study period, Palumbi and graduate student Lupita Ruiz-Jones monitored over 17,000 coral genes at just after noon each day. On the seventh and eighth day, when tides were lowest and temperatures hottest, the corals’ genes initiated the cellular unfolded protein response. On day nine, the tides rose and the corals’ systems returned to normal.

“This response just shows how in sync corals are with their environment,” said Ruiz-Jones, who was first author on the paper.

This stress response is not unique to corals. It’s been observed in mammals as well as some yeast species. Humans activate the same ancient genes in response to diseases, like cancer. In times of stress, a cell’s misfolded and unfolded proteins accumulate in the endoplasmic reticulum, a series of flattened, tube-like structures in the cell that assist with building proteins. The unfolded protein response is a reaction to the flood of misassembled proteins.

“It’s basically the organism recognizing that something isn’t right,” Ruiz-Jones said.

Studying tough corals

The lagoon on Ofu Island, a shallow turquoise bathtub, provided the ideal coral laboratory for studying heat-tolerant corals. The corals on Ofu Island experience water temperatures near human body temperature, enough to kill most coral species. The corals of Ofu, however, prosper in stressful environmental conditions.

Scientists believe that frequent, pulsing exposure to high temperatures may make corals stronger, much in the same way athletes train for competition. Understanding why some of the world’s toughest corals are so heat-tolerant could help scientists identify and map other survivor coral colonies around the globe.

“We know that corals have the ability to adapt and evolve to warmer water than we thought before. We can use that as a primary asset to help them live through the next decades until we solve global climate change,” Palumbi said.

Palumbi is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

This research was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the National Science Foundation and a Stanford DARE (Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence) fellowship.

Media Contacts

Amy Adams, Stanford News Service: (650) 796-3695, amyadams@stanford.edu
Stephen Palumbi, professor of Marine Sciences: (831) 601-7002, spalumbi@stanford.edu

Header Image Credit: Zack Gold


Where: Shriram Center Room 104, Stanford University
When: Friday, March 24th, 2:00-4:30pm
Register HERE by March 22nd

Feel like you aren’t taking enough risks? Is fear holding you back from the work and life you want? Join entrepreneur Caitie Whelan for this high-energy, leadership and professional development workshop on The Art of Risk Taking. You’ll walk away with concrete tools to take smart risks; handle fear, failure, rejection, and criticism; and live more meaningfully. During this workshop, participants will hear powerful stories, do engaging exercises, and leave with practical tools to:

  • Take risks consistent with their values
  • Develop resiliency through strategies to handle fear, failure, rejection, and criticism
  • Establish self-care practices to reduce stress and burnout

Workshop will begin at 2:00pm, followed by a reception with refreshments.



Where: Miller Library, Hopkins Marine Station
When: Wednesday, March 1st, 5:30-7:30pm
Register HERE by February 28th

Join us for an informal panel discussion about the role of ocean issues and science in the new administration.Panelists will discuss their perspectives on the outlook for oceans, how they and their respective organizations are mobilizing, and suggestions for how early career ocean-interested students can get involved. Audience members will have the opportunity to submit questions during the event. Panel discussion will begin at 5:30pm, followed by a reception with light hors d’oeuvres and refreshments