Skip to main content info question Facebook Twitter user Ask Skip the menu to the main content

NSU Oceanographic Center - Coral Reefs Research Guide: NSU Center of Excellence

This guide links to NSU Library resources for coral reef research, such as e-journals, databases, books, ebooks, websites, and more. It also provides an overview of the NSU Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Research.

NSU Oceanographic Center Supporting Institutes:

National Coral Reef Institute

Guy Harvey Research Institute

Save Our Seas Center


Sea Turtles

Current NSU OC Research

Nova Southeastern University’s Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Research


 Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Research Building

Official Name: Nova Southeastern University’s Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Research

Cost: $50 million

Location: Hollywood, Florida

Economic Impact of Coral Reef Center to South Florida:

The Center has created 22 new academic jobs and 300 construction jobs; and it will employ 50 graduate students as well as preserving 22 existing academic jobs. NSU received a $15 million competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce (using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) to build the center, while the university funded the rest of the project.

Florida is home to 84 percent of the nation’s reef ecosystems.  These contribute over $6 billion annually to South Florida’s economy and result in over 71,000 jobs such as restaurants, hotels, retail, cruise lines, dive shops, tour group operators, researchers, academia, public sector, etc. Small business owners such as Frank Gernert, the owner of the popular Fort Lauderdale waterfront restaurant Coconuts, depend heavily on tourists who come to Florida for recreation on the reefs and in turn, patronize his restaurant

“Nova Southeastern University’s coral reef research center will help sustain and preserve the reefs, which will then help many small business owners like me to continue to survive,” Gernert said. “The coral reef industry is invaluable environmentally and economically.”

Center’s Research Focus:

As a multi-disciplinary facility, the 86,000-square-foot Center generates information and research products to help understand, conserve and protect coral reef ecosystems. Its coral reef research aims to:

  • Assess the health of coral reefs and their ability to recover from injury and damage;
  • Examine effects of climate change on reefs;
  • Cultivate species of corals in nurseries for re-introduction to the ocean;
  • Map the extent and nature of coral reefs throughout the world;
  • Study coral growth rings to reconstruct the history of reefs and environmental conditions;
  • Investigate the flow of water in and around reefs;
  • Reveal molecular biology of reef animals to understand connectivity; and
  • Determine the effects of pollution, including oil that may impinge on reefs.

In addition to having laboratories and sophisticated equipment, the Center has space for research collaboration, training, and fieldwork staging, a marine science library and an 85-seat auditorium. The building’s design promotes research by current and new faculty, researchers, visiting scientists, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students.

Federal Grant to Build Center:

The grant was one of 12 given by the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology as a result of a nationwide competition.  NSU was one of two institutions to receive the largest amount awarded at $15 million.  Other grantees included the Woods Hole Oceanographic Center, Columbia University, Purdue, Georgia Tech Research Corporation, Georgetown University, and University of Maryland, putting NSU in elite company.

Center’s Seawater Filtration System:

Saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean is derived from several saltwater wells, pumped into 5,000-gallon seawater filtration tanks, purified, treated, and then transferred to controlled lab environments. There, cutting-edge computer and other equipment help students and scientists conduct groundbreaking research.

Center's Coral Reef Nurseries:

The Center of Excellence also contains a land-based coral nursery where corals are cultured in large tanks. When the young specimens reach an appropriate size and age, these corals can be transplanted to reefs.

One way to grow corals in the lab is to collect babies from the ocean. Each August, in synchronicity with moon cycles, many species of corals release millions of sperm and eggs all at once into the ocean. These form fertilized baby corals called larvae. The larvae swim for a while, but soon settle to the reef surface to grow a stout skeleton and contribute to the reef structure and ecology. That’s when an NSU science team collects fertilized eggs in the wild to raise the larvae in the laboratory’s controlled setting.

NSU also has coral nurseries on the reefs off the coast of Fort Lauderdale.  These are nurtured and stocked by assistant professor Dave Gilliam, Ph.D., his graduate student Liz Larson, and additional student researchers.

Reefs in Peril:

Coral reef ecosystems throughout the world are living creatures that have been in existence for more than 215 million years.

Reefs provide a host of environmental and economic services including employment, food, recreation, and coastal protection. Roughly 25 percent of the ocean’s fish species emanate from coral reef habitats. Millions of tourists and residents enjoy scuba diving, snorkeling, and fishing on the reefs --- activities that provide a major source of income and employment for communities around the world and in the Sunshine State’s coastal communities.

Richard E. Dodge, Ph.D., dean of NSU’s Oceanographic Center and executive director NSU’s National Coral Reef Institute, notes that reefs have been ravaged by a number of stresses, including global threats such as rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification, and by local threats including pollution, overfishing, and coastal development. Rising ocean temperatures are causing coral bleaching, which can lead to loss of coral tissue, disease, and ultimately, death. Increasing ocean acid content, even by small amounts, causes corals to make skeleton and so the very structure of reefs can be endangered.

It has been estimated that 25 percent to 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs are already severely degraded or lost and another very high percentage are in danger. Some experts predict reefs could be essentially wiped out within a human generation unless corrective action is taken.

In July, hundreds of marine biologists and other scientists from all over the world joined in a consensus statement written at the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, Australia. A statement from the symposium concluded: “Across the globe, the loss of reef resources causes enormous economic and cultural problems. A concerted effort to preserve reefs for the future demands action at global levels, but will benefit hugely from continued local protection.”

Name of NSU College that Houses the Center:

Oceanographic Center: http://www.nova.edu/ocean/

In the early years, the focus of the Oceanographic Center was mainly on physical oceanography.  This is the understanding of ocean currents and water movements.   In the late 1970's, biologists and geologists were added.  Researchers in the early days of biological investigations used to get seawater for their projects with 5-gallon buckets dipped in the surf.   Today the focus covers all aspects of oceanography (physical, chemical, biological, and geological) with a focus on coral reef ecosystems, sharks, and billfish.

Visuals for News Media:

Great opportunities for video and stills of coral reef nurseries at the center, as well as underwater footage during media dive.

For more information, please contact Brandon Hensler, APR | Associate Director of Public Affairsbrandon.hensler@nova.edu or  954-262-5385/5170.