Into the Lab with Laura Stieghorst


Natalia Rodriguez

The coral lab has grown from two medium sized tanks to a full, big, tank.

Natalia Rodriguez, Staff Writer

The coral lab has been one of Gables’s “hidden treasures” ever since the project was started by alumna Hanna Payne. When Payne graduated, the lab was able to expand and grow due to the tireless efforts of senior Laura Stieghorst. After taking it over her junior year, the lab developed from two simple medium sized tanks to a large tank that houses its very own marine ecosystem.

The tank houses a variety of fish, coral, and other marine life.

The coral lab started out in the second floor of the science hall in a small storage closet that is used by the biology teachers, and was only composed of two tanks that were donated to the school. The lab project had only just begun when Stieghorst took it over as coral lab manager for Gables Earth. There was very little set up until Stieghorst came into contact with Colin Foord, co-founder of Coral Morphologic – a group that uses media and art as a platform to encourage the conservation of the imperiled coral reefs. Foord generously donated the big tank that is currently used in the lab, and the whole lab was moved downstairs.

The lab’s current home used to be a teacher’s lounge for the science department, but since it was hardly used, the tank was installed and there is now a lot more space in comparison to the storage closet. The room was completely renovated, and new fish and coral were added to the tank. The fish and coral are donated by Foord for the most part, and he is extremely helpful in setting up the equipment and ensuring the lab is running smoothly.

Natalia Rodriguez
The lab is trying to grow coral in order to eventually take frags from it.

“The walls were this awful mustard yellow color and the tank was totally empty. Now it’s like a brand new room. We’ve gotten so much more coral and tons of fish in the past two years. It started off pretty shabby looking, but it’s starting to look very impressive, I’m excited to see where it goes from here,” senior Laura Stieghorst said.

For the past few years, Stieghorst had been managing the lab mostly on her own, and it became difficult for her to carry the full workload every day. However, the coral lab team has now expanded to include Natalia Torres, Sutton Payne, and Natalia Rodriguez who are preparing to take it over after Stieghorst graduates.

Currently, the coral lab team is trying to install an automatic system that would take the calcium, alkalinity, and salinity measurements in the tank, and then dose the tank with calcium and alkalinity if it needs any more. The system will be a great help as it notifies the team if there are any abnormalities within the tank that would require immediate attention as to prevent any major disasters. When it comes to the tank, new fish and coral are always being added so the tank can really house a flourishing marine ecosystem. Aside from the main tank, there are two smaller ones – one that is empty and one that is growing mangroves. The tanks are being set up to hopefully house their own ecosystems, and allow for more coral to be grown.

Natalia Rodriguez
Mangroves are housed in one of the smaller tanks.

“Long term, I’m hoping the school will offer marine science as a real class, right now it’s only an online course but there’s potential to make a class. Until then we are working towards growing the coral large enough to take frags and start trading with the different coral groups in Florida and hopefully replanting some of it. If we can get a spot to make it a club that would be amazing too,” senior Laura Stieghorst said.

Without Stieghorst’s help the lab would have never been able to grow as much as it has. Hopefully, the lab will continue to prosper and the team will be able to accomplish all of its goals.