REU student studies crabs’ potential to save corals

By Maria Gabriela Gonzalez Starchek

Jeannette Fantone holding up a Caribbean King Crab.

Jeannette Fantone is on a mission to preserve the environment.

Fantone’s strong interest in environmental studies motivated her to pursue a major in biological science with a minor in environmental science. While at Clemson University in South Carolina, Fantone attended a workshop where she was encouraged to apply for the FIU Institute of Environment’s Coastal Ecosystems Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program for the 2021 summer term.

The institute’s Butler Tropical Ecology Lab onboarded Fantone as one of their student researchers for the summer. She researched the Caribbean King Crab, specifically focusing on its survival and reproductive rates. On a mission to collect crabs in quarry and hard bottom environments and test their survival, Fantone spent three and a half weeks doing fieldwork in the Florida Keys. She visited Cudjoe Key multiple times a week to collect the crabs for several experiments. FIU trucks took the team to the quarries, while boats made it easier for the group to get to hard bottom habitats.

“Working with the Butler Tropical Ecology Lab gave me the opportunity to study the detrimental effect the overgrowth has on coral reefs,” Fantone said.

Macroalgae is currently outcompeting corals, driving away native fish species and reducing coral reproductive output. Fantone is trying to find a method to mass-produce Caribbean King Crabs to increase their population and place them where an abundance of macroalgae can be found. Growing, harvesting and planting crabs on coral reefs could reduce the macroalgae in reefs by 50 to 80 percent. Lowering the amount of macroalgae would encourage the return of reef fish to the coral ecosystems and increase the survival rate of damaged reefs.

“This was my first research experience, and it just strengthened my passion for all kinds of environments,” Fantone said.

Fantone plans to attend graduate school and hopes to work in the environmental field to educate others about ecology and spread the importance of environmental science.