Rotary Club grant supports international Brock marine biodiversity research

Norievill España is examining ways to make conservation of coral reefs in one of the planet’s most biodiverse areas more effective and equitable.

A Brock student in the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre’s (ESRC) inaugural PhD in Sustainability Science class, España is undertaking fieldwork in select marine protected areas in the Philippines thanks to a $58,000 St. Catharines Rotary Club International Global Grant Scholarship.

Several coral reefs in the Philippines with two scuba divers in the background conducting assessments.

The Philippines is recognized as the world’s centre for marine biodiversity, underscoring its pivotal role in Norievill España’s research at Brock University. Photo courtesy of KL Tapales.

“Coral reefs are home to over a quarter of life in the ocean and support the food security, livelihoods and cultural heritage of more than 500 million people worldwide,” says España, who is originally from the Philippines. “Yet, coral reefs are one of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth.”

A marine biologist and certified diver, España’s research will involve discussions with local community partner organizations and scuba diving to survey coral reefs and look at coral cover and diversity in protected areas.

Aligning her research efforts with the goals of the 2022 landmark Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework adopted within the Convention on Biological Diversity, which the Philippines is a signatory, España aims to amplify local perspectives and engage in dialogues that foster co-creation of solutions.

“From an ecological perspective, thriving coral reefs support highly diverse communities such as reef-building corals and healthy fish populations,” says España. “The generous support from the Rotary Club will enable me to engage with local communities, collect data to assess well-being in relation to coral reefs and do knowledge mobilization and dissemination.”

España is among 28 graduate students globally to receive an environment-focused scholarship grant from Rotary International this award cycle — the first time the Protecting the Environment stream has been offered.

Choosing the environment as their 2022-23 area of focus, the Rotary Club of St. Catharines led efforts to partner with the Rotary Club of Buffalo Sunrise and Brock University to put Espana’s application forward.

“This incredible Rotary grant will support Norie in conducting cutting-edge science to inform coral reef conservation and help safeguard the planet’s remaining coral reefs,” says ESRC Associate Professor Jessica Blythe, España’s supervisor.

An arm uses a measuring tape to measure coral as a school of yellow fish swim by.

Norievill España will assess coral diversity and other associated indicators of effectively and equitably managed marine protected areas in select areas of the three islands that make up the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Badi Samaniego.

Also contributing support to España are Rotary District 7090, which represents 75 Rotary and Rotaract Clubs throughout southern Ontario and western New York, and Rotary Clubs of Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. Maarten and Pato Branco, Brazil.

“This is the very first Global Grant Scholarship for a PhD student in Environmental Studies to be awarded by our club and our Rotary District 7090,” says Richard Evans, Rotary Club of St. Catharines Past President, who, along with current Treasurer Lezlie Murch, was instrumental in helping to facilitate the global grant application.

“Norie España was selected to be the recipient of this grant due to her many years of previous experience and expertise,” says Murch. “I am confident that her research will be of benefit not only to her native Philippines but to coral reefs around the world.”

España’s research committee is composed of Blythe, ESRC Professor Ryan Plummer and University of the Philippines Cebu Professor Hazel Arceo.

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