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Papua New Guinea

U.S. Fulbright

The Land of the Unexpected

March 1, 2016

Peter Pellitier, 2014-2015, Papua New Guinea (left), poses for a picture with young friend while studying coral reef resilience in Kavieng, Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea, the much too accurate national slogan is “the land of the unexpected.” Every morning, I awoke assured that my day would be far from boring, simple or easy. Encountering sharks, witnessing assistants maimed by venomous fish, and dealing with missing boats are just a few of the research challenges I faced while working abroad as a Fulbright U.S. Student in Kavieng, Papua New Guinea.

Working in the exquisitely bio-diverse land and seas of Papua New Guinea, the Fulbright Program provided me with the adventure and cultural experience of a lifetime. Swarms of fish flashing over the obtuse angles of coral 35 feet below the turquoise surface of the Coral Sea will forever be burned into my memory. The country is truly a biologist’s playground.

My research examined the ecological drivers of coral reef resilience to climate change, especially the functional role of Parrotfish in the reef ecosystem. A significant amount of my Fulbright project was spent diving and collecting data in the remote islands of New Ireland Province to understand this phenomenon. Some Parrotfish eat algae that can smother the reef, while others eat the coral itself. All functions are thought to be critical for coral “rejuvenation.” Understanding how Parrotfish and the reef interact is critical amid the two-pronged threat of ocean acidification and warming ocean temperatures that endanger coral reefs.

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