A Love for Coral Reefs and Science.  Congratulations to Ph.D. student Becca Maher (Dr. Vega-Thurber Lab) for being awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) award for 2017.  Becca studies how environmental stressors alter the coral host and its associated stressors. Maher, who graduated from Rice University in 2015, will soon be collaborating on a very interesting project involving the study of coral microbiome at the Gump Research Station on Moorea, French Polynesia. She will be traveling to Moorea this September for her first field season to conduct ecological experiments on the reef and microbial analyses along with a fellow scientist at UC Santa Barbara.  Her NSF project investigates how predation by parrotfish and elevated nutrient levels combine to affect coral microbiome and increase coral fatalities.  "My project is exciting because we are investigating a phenomenon that has never been observed before."  "Herbivores that supplement their diets by predating coral are usually benign to the coral in healthy reef systems. However, many reefs around the world are facing nutrient pollution from terrestrial sources like agricultural runoff. And when the water is enriched with nutrients, corals can no longer recover from fish predation, leading to total colony mortality," explained Maher.  Her family has roots in Nicaragua, and she has participated in several “conservation projects involving eco-tourism and biodiversity monitoring in Latin America.” She has directed a year-long Engineers Without Borders project to modernize a water distribution system in Nicaragua, conducted marine research in Honduras, and studied the impact of endangered Capuchin monkeys on a cloud forest reserve in Ecuador.  “As I extend my fieldwork to new countries, I will prioritize attention on the unique cultural traditions and values of a particular community which can be an integral, fascinating and effective part of regional conservation,” said Maher.  Maher has many scientific accomplishments to her credit. She received the Shell Center’s Sustainable Development Award for effectively disseminating her research on coral reef conservation in the Gulf Coast. Her research on the impact of macrobioeroders (reef organisms) on coral reef health has pioneered new methods of investigation and generated novel datasets to be used in conserving deep sea coral reef health. Maher’s data is currently being incorporated into coral population models for publication with NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center.  Maher is a science communication fellow with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and will make marine science accessible to young museum-goers through hands-on interactive exhibits.