Art of Science Winner: Sydney Bell


Art of Science 2022 Second Place Winner: Peek-a-boo. Photography by Sydney Bell

Art of Science Winner: Sydney Bell

Research and Restoration to Help Save Coral Reefs

Sydney Bell, a graduate student at FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, won second place for her image of coral in the 2022 Art of Science contest, sponsored by the FAU Division of Research.

Since 2021, Bell has worked with Joshua Voss, Ph.D., associate research professor, in the Coral Reef Health and Ecology Lab at FAU Harbor Branch. Her research is part of the largest experimental coral outplanting and restoration project in Florida to date, she said. “It’s a collaborative effort among several state agencies, universities, and non-profit research organizations that aims to assess the efficacy of coral restoration efforts across Florida’s coral reef in the face of stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD),” Bell said.

Her work helps save imperiled reefs that directly benefit people, by helping protect our shorelines from storms and erosions, providing millions of jobs through tourism, fisheries and recreation activities, and even provide raw materials for life-saving medicines.

SCTLD has decimated Florida’s coral reef, wiping out highly susceptible species and affecting more than 20 species of corals. From 2014 to 2017, this novel coral disease has caused a 60% decrease in live coral cover and a 30% decline in coral abundance in Southeast Florida.

Bell’s winning image features a small spinyhead blenny, a type of fish, as it makes its home in between the polyps of a great star coral, one of the species susceptible to SCTLD.

Specifically, Bell’s work combines multiple molecular techniques to identify corals with a specific genetic makeup, as well as the algae that coexist with them, to see if any are associated with SCTLD susceptibility. “Specifically in Florida, information from this study will help us identify which portions of the reef are now safe to begin outplanting SCTLD-susceptible corals on and what factors contribute to the success of these outplants,” Bell said.

“Sydney’s research provides critical information on corals’ genetic biodiversity that can enhance and improve coral restoration practices state-wide” Voss said.

In addition to her work as a researcher, Bell runs a sustainable ocean apparel company, Tidal Tees, that donates 100% of profits to ocean conservation nonprofits. “This business combines my love of art, science, and conservation,” she said.

Since she was a senior in high school, Bell has been creating art inspired by her underwater adventures and printing them on sustainable apparel to raise awareness for conservation efforts, she said. Since its conception, Tidal Tees has sold over $80,000 in apparel and donated to over 25 nonprofits with a wide range of conservation efforts from algal blooms to endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Prior to joining FAU, Bell earned a bachelor’s degree from Stony Brook University in New York. During that time, she had the chance to study abroad at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute in Little Cayman and researched the ideal habitat for the critically endangered staghorn coral.

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Student Spotlight

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Sydney Bell, a graduate student at FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, was awarded the 2023 Jim Leffard Memorial Advanced Dive Training Grant for Underwater Photography from the Women Divers Hall of Fame. This support will provide both new equipment and training opportunities for Bell To further develop her underwater photography skills and expertise.