Courtney Couch

Headshot(1)I am a postdoctoral fellow at the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology with Dr. Megan Donahue. I immigrated to the Aloha state in September 2013 shortly after completing my Ph.D. in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, advised by Prof. Drew Harvell. Broadly, I’m interested in understanding the processes affecting coral health and disease risk from the physiological to community level.

Believe it or not, my journey as a marine scientist began at St. Lawrence University, in Canton, NY where I received my B.S in Biology. Under Prof. Brad Baldwin’s invaluable mentorship, I participated in a variety of research projects ranging from the feeding preferences of Caribbean sea urchins to restoration of the keystone herbivore Diadema antillarum and the impact of herbivory on reef biodiversity in the Bahamas.

Following undergrad, I worked as a marine science educator at Seacamp on Big Pine Key, FL and an environmental consultant in Miami, FL where I worked on projects ranging from sea grass restoration to ecological monitoring in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. In 2007, I returned to upstate NY and was introduced to the fields of coral disease ecology and coral immunology as a lab technician and then Ph.D. student in Prof. Drew Harvell’s lab at Cornell University under Dr. Laura Mydlarz’s guidance.WHI

During the early stages of my Ph.D., I used immunological, histological, and microbiological techniques to measure coral’s immunological response to pathogens and environmental stress, with specific focus the sea fan coral, Gorgonia ventalinaAspergillus sydowii pathosystem. These assays have provided insights into how variation in immunocompetence across coral colonies may affect disease susceptibility and ultimately community-level disease risk.

During the second portion of my doctorate, I returned to my roots as a field ecologist by studying the rAspergillosisole of ecological processesCourtney_immune and environmental factors in coral disease dynamics. I was fortunate enough to spend 6-7 months/year from 2009 to 2012 along the leeward coast of the Island of Hawai‘i, which has the most extensive and actively growing reefs in Hawai‘i. My research addressed the patterns and processes affecting coral health, with specific emphasis on drivers of the highly prevalent Porites growth anomalies. I not only identified several regions with declining coral health, but also determined that reefs with large/old corals in sheltered embayments with significant terrestrial input have the highest risk of disease.

During my post-doctoral research, I’m honored to be working with Drs. Randy Kosaki (NOAA/ Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument), Eric Conklin (The Nature Conservancy Hawai‘i), Megan Donahue (HIMB) and other talented researchers at HIMB. The primary goals of my current projects are to develop coral health and disease monitoring programs for a number of Big Ocean sites (world’s largest tropical marine protected areas), address local environmental drivers of coral disease through targeted research in the Main Hawaiian Islands, and build capacity and facilitate communication between marine resource managers and scientists to improve reef resilieCourtney_in waternce planning.