TAMPA, Fla. — The National Science Foundation awarded USF with a $20 million grant to the university's lead team of researchers. The money will be used to develop a standardized approach to both the replenishment and protection of coral reef and mangrove ecosystems.
Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Maya Trotz will lead the team.
"I think it was in 2014 when I first started taking students internationally to Barbados and Belize. We have to go see the reef, we have to snorkel. We have to see that beauty on what it is we are trying to protect," said Maya Trotz, Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor at the University of South Florida.
The grant will focus on the coral reef ecosystems near Miami, Belize and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"It allows us to continue to do research and to support our mission to train students to be globally competent to be community engaged to do projects that actually have some sort of societal impact," said Trotz.
The team, which includes USF experts in environmental engineering, marine science and anthropology, will develop equitable engineering practices to enhance coastal sustainability. This will be done by combining natural features, like coral reefs and mangrove forests, with built infrastructure to promote resilience to threats that can cause erosion and loss of life.
Coral reefs generate millions of dollars in tourism and recreation. Reefs serve as a habitat for fish and provide coastal protection to communities. Hurricanes, pollution and disease threaten the fragile ecosystem.
The University of South Florida is working with Fragments of Hope, a community-based organization in Belize. The organization is replenishing devastated reefs with genetically robust and resilient corals.
“Reefs and mangroves play critical roles in protecting coastal communities," she said. "By rigorously valuing their social and economic benefits, we open new opportunities to invest in these habitats and ensure their benefits to people and nature. Not only will this project address the environmental questions of our time, it will also provide advice on how ordinary people everywhere can participate in finding solutions to our coastal crisis.”