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Reef Encounters: Craig Humphrey

Craig Humphrey, Manager of the National Sea Simulator at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) tells us about the aims of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation program and his hopes for the future of The Great Barrier Reef.

What is your typical day?

I have one of the best jobs in the world. The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) headquarters’ is in Townsville, North Queensland right next to the Great Barrier Reef. I get to dive this incredible icon, participate in amazing research helping to ensure the health of tropical marine ecosystems, and manage the most sophisticated marine experimental aquarium facility in the world – the National Sea Simulator (SeaSim). All this as well as meeting dedicated, committed and brilliant people who are passionate about protecting marine environments around the world.

My typical day can be quite diverse and will generally involve many very different tasks. These might range from diving on the Great Barrier Reef (unfortunately far too infrequently nowadays) to sitting at my desk responding to email, working on budgets and making sure that the facility keeps running.

  • Craig Humphrey image, Craig Humphrey, Christian Miller
    Craig Humphrey, Christian Miller

Time spent in the field is mostly on-board AIMS’ 24m research vessel, the RV Cape Ferguson. I’ll spend up to a week at sea diving and snorkelling to collect reef organisms for experiments back in the SeaSim. Recently we collected a range of coral species for the annual coral spawning which will support vital research at AIMS.

I’m extremely lucky that through my job I not only get to work alongside AIMS scientists, but I get to meet a wide range of different people from around the world, discussing their research, passions and commitment to protecting our oceans. AIMS and the SeaSim attracts people from all over the globe. Some of the many amazing people I’ve met over the past years have included indigenous students, school students, an Australian Prime Minister, international royalty and my boyhood idol Sir David Attenborough. These are just a few of the people I get to share my passion for coral reefs with.

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

I grew up in a small country town in Southern Australia of around 200 people, more than 2000 km from the Great Barrier Reef, completely outnumbered by dairy cows and kangaroos. At 17, after high school, I was looking for a change of scenery and ended up at James Cook University, arguably one of the world’s leading universities for coral reef studies, where I fell in love with the reef.

What inspires you in your work?

  • Craig Humphrey image 2, Craig Humphrey and water tank, Christian Miller
    Craig Humphrey and water tank, Christian Miller

I’ve spent the greater part of my life living and working on the Great Barrier Reef and visiting reefs in other parts of the Pacific. I’m continually excited by the beauty, colour and diversity of the numerous animals and plants that make up coral reefs. I’m inspired by the idea that the work I’m involved in is helping to protect these ecosystems so that my children and future generations may get the chance to see the beauty of these reefs and experience the joy that I have been so privileged to experience in my working life.

What would your take-home message for the future of reefs be?

There are many threats facing the world's reefs today, of which climate change is the most significant. If we don’t start acting to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions now then the reefs that we know today will be irrevocably changed. There is still time but we need to act now.

What’s your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

  • Craig Humphrey image 5 - Hard Corals, Hard Coral, Craig Humphrey
    Hard Coral, Craig Humphrey

My favourite creature would be the hard corals which are the key reef-building organisms. This symbiosis between the coral host and microscopic algae continuously surprises me. In particular, their behaviour during the annual spawning event never ceases to amaze. How do these extremely simple organisms know how to synchronously release eggs and sperm at the same time across the whole breadth of the reef? Not only do they know what month and day, they also know what hour of the night. Each species of coral have a particular day and hour after the full moon in November to release eggs and sperm to ensure the survival of the next generation of corals.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen at sea?

  • Craig Humphrey image 3 - Sea Cucumber, Sea Cucumber, Craig Humphrey
    Sea Cucumber, Craig Humphrey

Early on in my career, I was swimming across the reef when I came across a sea cucumber standing straight up off the sand with what appeared to be smoke coming out of what might be considered its head. This was the first time I had come across the spawning behaviour of sea cucumbers.

What kit do you use?

  • Craig Humphrey image 4 - Underwater Camera, Craig Humphrey using an underwater camera
    Craig Humphrey using an underwater camera

Canon G16 in a Nauticam housing with two Sola 2500/1200 Light & Motion video lights. This provides a nice balance between functionality and compactness.

What’s the next big thing for your work?

AIMS is currently leading a consortium of organisations in developing a Reef Restoration and Adaptation program, in which SeaSim will play a significant role. This program aims to bring together leading experts from Australia and around the world to help preserve and restore the Great Barrier Reef. We’ll be continually looking at developing new systems and methods to assist in research around this theme. This may involve a significant increase in the capacity of the facility for which we’ve started the initial planning.

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

I guess it’s a bit of a cliché but Sir David Attenborough was my initial ‘reef hero’. For a boy growing up in rural Australia, the wonder of the reef (and many other wonderful ecosystems) bought to vibrant life in my living room by Sir David provided the beginning of a lifelong passion for nature. Since I started work as a marine biologist I developed an immense respect for researchers from around the world who have dedicated their lives to studying coral reefs in order to help preserve them for future generations.

Reef Encounters: Dr James Guest

Marine biologist, Dr James Guest, who works at Newcastle University, tells us about his work focusing on tropical reef research, understanding how reefs regenerate and recover.

What is your typical day?

Currently, I am the lead researcher on a five year project called CoralASSIST that aims to examine the feasibility of an approach called coral assisted gene flow. I am interested to know whether it is really possible to seed areas of reef with corals that are more tolerant to thermal stress and what risks and trade-offs are involved.

My time is split between the office and the field. In the office, my day involves writing papers and grant proposals, discussing and designing experiments, ordering equipment and materials and all the mundane stuff involved in running a research project (this probably takes up 70% of my time).

The rest of the time is spent in the field - this is the fun part of my job - as it involves diving and snorkelling on reefs to set up experiments, or doing experiments in aquarium tanks, collecting coral spawn, rearing coral larvae and monitoring the results of long term studies.  

  • Brain coral, Brain coral underwater, Pixabay CC.0
    Brain coral underwater, Pixabay CC.0

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area?

I went snorkelling on holiday in Croatia when I was about 8 or 9, then I learned to dive in England when I was 17. I became completely hooked on diving from that age.

I then got a job as a photographer on a ship and I started diving on reefs in the Caribbean and taking underwater pictures. Eventually I returned to the UK and took my degree in marine biology at Newcastle University, an institution that has a long tradition of doing work on tropical coral reefs.

I was particularly fascinated by corals because they are really simple organisms, but they build these amazing, diverse and beautiful ecosystems. During my summer holidays at University I went to Central America to survey coral reefs and that was really my first step into the world of coral reef research.

What inspires you in your work?

The scientific process and finding out things about the how the world works.

What would your take-home message for the future of reefs be?

Well, things look very bad for reefs and much has been lost for ever.

There is still time to turn things around, but there has to be more action now if we want to conserve coral reefs in the future.

This has to start with further reducing greenhouse gas emissions in tandem with much better local management. There may also be some innovative techniques we could try to help corals adapt, but much research is still needed before they can be applied. 

  • Reef squid, Reef squid, Betty Wills (Atsme) Wikimedia Commons License CC-BY-SA-4.0
    Reef squid, Betty Wills (Atsme) Wikimedia Commons License CC-BY-SA-4.0

What's your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

I am particularly fond of a genus of coral called Goniopora. They have these beautiful swaying polyps that are always extended during the day. But I also love reef squid because of their amazing ability to use colour change to communicate with one and another and to camouflage themselves.

  • Goniopora, Goniopora, Peter Young Cho MD, Wikipedia Creative Commons CC-BY-3.0
    Goniopora, Peter Young Cho MD, Wikipedia Creative Commons CC-BY-3.0

What's the oddest thing you've seen at sea?

I once found a large metal combination lock safe sitting on a reef in Singapore, the type you would find in a bank. It was too heavy to lift and bring back to the boat. I wonder if it was full of money...I will never know!?

What photography kit do you use?

For work, currently I'm a fan of the Olympus Tough TG-5. It's an amazing workhorse camera and is not too bulky. 

What's the next big thing for your work?

Trying to establish whether it really is feasible to breed corals that are more resistant to higher thermal stress. If we can, then we need to see if these traits are heritable and whether lab reared corals can really be seeded to reefs at large enough scales to have a meaningful impact in terms of mitigating the impact of climate change.

Who's your 'reef hero' - someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

There's no one person in particular, but I have a lot of respect for people around the world who work directly with local communities (often with little or no funding) to continually raise awareness about the importance of nature conservation.  

Reef Encounters: Laura Puk

This month as part of our Reef Encounters series we spoke to Laura Puk, a PhD student at the University of Queensland, who is researching how damaging microalgae are spreading across coral reefs.

What is your typical day?

That depends a lot on whether I am in the field or working in the office. When I’m in the field - which can often be for weeks or months at a time - we’re often out on the water for the better part of the day. After coming back home, we need to clean our dive equipment, take care of samples, input the collected data, or work on all the pictures taken.

When I’m in the office my day is very different and much more computer-based. I either work on the data collected during my field trip, read papers, write, or do all the little things that come up on the side.

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

I’ve wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember. My interest in coral reef research began when I took a gap year after my undergraduate degree and helped monitor coral reefs in Madagascar.

  • Laura Puk 01, "I've wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember."
    "I've wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember."

What inspires you in your work? 

The unbelievable diversity of life and intricate interactions between marine organisms. There’s still so much to discover.

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

I think coral reefs have a chance if we don’t lose hope and act now. Coral reefs are in grave danger and the coral reefs of the future may look different to what we know. However, if everyone puts in an effort we may be able to preserve these incredible ecosystems and the services they provide to people. 

  • Laura Puk 02, "I think coral reefs have a chance if we don't lose hope and act now."
    "I think coral reefs have a chance if we don't lose hope and act now."

What’s your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

That’s a difficult one. I sort of have a soft spot for rabbitfish, probably because of their ability to feed on algae and because rabbitfish pairs look out for each other.

  • Rabbitfish, "rabbitfish pairs look out for each other", Leonard Low/CCBY2.0
    "rabbitfish pairs look out for each other", Leonard Low/CCBY2.0

Sharks also still get me. When I first see them my heart rate goes up, but when you watch them calmly swimming along, it’s oddly relaxing.

What kit do you use?

Until recently I used a Sony RX 100 with an underwater housing, but I just got a housing for my Olympus om-d e-m 5 and am super excited to start playing around with it.

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

I actually don’t have a proper ‘reef hero’. I admire Jane Goodall, even though she’s worked on chimpanzees not coral reefs. She went to Africa in the 1950s and 1960s as a young woman to become a scientist in a society where that wasn’t an easy journey to make. Since then she’s worked for decades to promote conservation in every field and inspired thousands and thousands of people around the world.

Plastic bag charge to raise funds for Project Coral

As of today, the Horniman will be charging 5p for the use of plastic bags in our shop in a bid to reduce plastic waste, and raise funds for Project Coral.

Having committed to replacing single-use plastics in our Café earlier this year, the Horniman is now looking into other ways to reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce. 

One of our longer-term aims as an organisation is to remove plastic bags from our shop and we are currently looking into alternatives. However, in the meantime, we will be introducing a 5p charge on plastic bags to encourage people to use reuseable bags.

The 5p raised from each plastic bag sales goes directly to support Project Coral, an innovative coral reproductive research project led by the Horniman Aquarium with international partners.

Together we are conducting ground-breaking work on coral reproduction and investigating ways to help save reefs around the world.

At the Horniman, we recognise our responsibility to help lead efforts to reduce plastic waste and continue to seek ways to do so.

Reef Encounters: Dr Dirk Petersen

For the latest installment of our Reef Encounters series, we spoke to Dr. Dirk Petersen, the founder and Executive Director of SECORE International, a leading nonprofit organisation bringing like-minded people and organisations together to give coral reefs a future. 

What is your typical day?

Unless I am on a field trip, I am spending most of my day at the laptop in my office in Bremen with correspondence and conference calls.

Calls to Australia and the Pacific region are in the morning, those to the USA and the Atlantic region are in the afternoon and sometimes in the evening. I'll spend a lot of times addressing all kinds of budgets, policies, and research and education programmes.

During my travels, I visit our office in Miami, meet with partners and funders or simply enjoy a dive with our staff at one of our field sites. Keeping involved in the underwater work means a lot to me, even if it is just joining the collection of coral gametes during a night dive or exploring one of our research or restoration dive sites.

  • Dr Dirk Petersen, "Keeping involved in the underwater work means a lot to me even if it is just joining the collection of coral gametes during a night dive", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Paul Selvaggio
    "Keeping involved in the underwater work means a lot to me even if it is just joining the collection of coral gametes during a night dive", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Paul Selvaggio

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

While studying for my Masters in Biology at Munich, I got the opportunity to work with coral larvae in an aquarium environment. These little critters were absolutely fascinating to me and a great inspiration to start exploring sexual coral reproduction.

When I did my PhD at the University of Duisburg-Essen I worked at the marine laboratory at the Rotterdam Zoo where I was maintaining aquarium systems to develop coral breeding techniques. From the beginning, I had the idea to share my findings with colleagues in the science and aquarium field.

I believed that bringing together scientists and aquarists would be very beneficial to advance coral restoration.

What inspires you in your work?

Ever since I dived for the first time in a coral reef, this wonderful underwater world has captured my imagination.

Corals are a miracle, especially when it comes to sexual reproduction. I was fascinated to manipulate reproduction, for example, to be able to control coral larval settlement within a microhabitat scale of a few millimeters, which would determine survival or death of a coral recruit.

I think my greatest inspiration is taking novel directions, putting an idea into action and joining forces with others to face big challenges. This has led to some amazing breakthroughs in the past that outsiders did not believe we would accomplish, but we did as a group.

I have been fortunate enough to work together with some of the greatest minds in the aquarium and science community, a team that will keep on going until the problem is solved.   

  • Dr Dirk Petersen 02, "Ever since I dived for the first time in a coral reef this wonderful underwater world has captured my imagination.", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Vanessa Cara-Kerr
    "Ever since I dived for the first time in a coral reef this wonderful underwater world has captured my imagination.", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Vanessa Cara-Kerr

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

Coral restoration could eventually be as commonly and effectively applied as reforestation has been applied for centuries. Restoration will change the landscape of reefs as it has done with forests.

Future reefs will look different to today’s reefs, which doesn’t really matter as long as they provide similar ecological and economic services. Nonetheless, coral restoration can only buy us some time. Time that we must use to solve the greatest challenge of all time – climate change.

What’s your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

Corals, of course, the most beautiful, diverse and magical organisms on our planet.

My favorite coral is the elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata). With its brownish branches, it is not one of those fancy, colorful coral species, but it makes a powerful stand against massive waves and storms where other corals would not have any chance to resist. Just this species alone absorbs more than 90% of wave energy, which would otherwise crush the coast, and creates shelter for many other species.

At the same time, the elkhorn coral is definitely the most fragile coral species I have ever worked with. If you touch it, you will spot your fingerprints the next day because the coral’s tissue will have died.

  • Dr Dirk Petersen 03, Dr. Petersen inspecting some of his favourite type of coral, the elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), (C) Paul Selvaggio
    Dr. Petersen inspecting some of his favourite type of coral, the elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), (C) Paul Selvaggio

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen at sea?

During a scouting trip for a new field location in Guam, I saw some beer cans rolling around in the sand between corals. A few metres further we discovered a huge field of beer cans that were lying on the ground.

Fortunately, those cans were removed in a large clean-up a few weeks later by Underwater World, the University of Guam, and local dive schools.

What’s the next big thing for your work?

The Global Coral Restoration Project that we have launched last year together with the California Academy of Sciences and The Nature Conservancy is for sure the next big thing.

The project involves many partners and we are looking for more to join in the coming years. The goal is to develop and implement novel technologies that will allow restoration at a significantly larger scale than currently possible.

  • Dr Dirk Petersen 04, "My reef heroes are all those out of the spotlight who are teaching children about the beauty and vulnerability of coral reefs", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Paul Selvaggio
    "My reef heroes are all those out of the spotlight who are teaching children about the beauty and vulnerability of coral reefs", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Paul Selvaggio

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

My reef heroes are all those out of the spotlight who are teaching children about the beauty and vulnerability of coral reefs, and how small daily habits can make a big difference to the environment.

Reef Encounters: Dr. Mary Hagedorn

As part of International Year of the Reef, we spoke to Dr. Mary Hagedorn, Director of MarineGEO Hawaii and creator of the first genome repository for endangered coral species, who gave us a "call-to-arms about the future of our life on the planet".

What is your typical day?

My typical day often starts out in a boat where I am motoring over to the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology in their launch to my laboratory on Coconut Island. This marine laboratory is one of the best in the world for studying coral because we are surrounded by acres of coral reefs and have excellent tools for studying their biology.

A lot of my time is spent writing and talking to people to help fund my work but my summers are filled with field work where we collect coral in the Bay, bring them into our seawater tanks and then study their reproduction.

It can be exhilarating when everything goes as planned. However, it is often very tiring physically; it’s hard work and there are lots of long hours without a lot of sleep, as there are many, many long nights and early mornings involved in this type of endeavor.

  • Dr Mary Hagedorn, Dr. Hagedorn is the Director of MarineGEO Hawaii, a global near-shore long-term monitoring program, J Daniels
    Dr. Hagedorn is the Director of MarineGEO Hawaii, a global near-shore long-term monitoring program, J Daniels

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

I started working on coral reef preservation as the result of an accident, on an expedition in the Amazon in 2002. This accident altered my view of safety for expeditions in such remote areas.

I was already working on the cryopreservation of fishes in the laboratory and decided that this same approach would be useful and needed for coral reefs in the future.

What inspires you in your work?

I am a futurist. I am always looking to the future to see how my science can make life better for people and animals.

When I first started my work, few people saw the value or need for banking coral. Today’s students see a direct connection to their lives, so I am inspired to continue by their interest and enthusiasm.

If 40 years from now, kids get to see a coral reef as a result of my work that is a great thing to contemplate and gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

  • Smithsonian MarineGEO, The Smithsonian Institute's MarineGEO on Coconut Island is also home  to the HawaiÊ»i Institute of Marine Biology., Smithsonian Institute
    The Smithsonian Institute's MarineGEO on Coconut Island is also home to the HawaiÊ»i Institute of Marine Biology., Smithsonian Institute

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

To me, the future of our reefs is really a call-to-arms about the future of our life on the planet.

We may think that saving species, especially marine species, is something that other people must figure out because the ocean seems so distant, vast and unapproachable. However, all our individual actions impact the Earth in some way. Even though we are one of a collective of billions of people on Earth, our footprints matter. So, I would urge all people who love the ocean for any reason take responsibility for our own actions and impacts.

A critical first step is starting to imagine how these impacts will affect future generations.

I try to imagine what life on Earth will be like without coral reefs. Will we have fish? Will more people be hungry because there are fewer fish? Will our oceans be less able to produce oxygen because reefs are degraded? I see all these scenes very clearly.

It does not mean that it will happen, but it drives me to move forward with my work. My feeling is that unless we can band together in a moral imperative across nations, we will not be able to save our reefs.

What’s your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

Although this may sound odd, one of my favorite creatures on the reef is the sea urchin embryo. They are amazingly beautiful and fascinating.

They develop eight arms as they grow and swim around like unearthly underwater starships. From there they develop into some of the most essential creatures on the reefs - herbivores. These keep the reefs from being overrun by algae. Sea urchins will be some of the most important components to keep reefs intact for the future, and it all starts with these beautiful little spaceships.

  • Sea Urchin Larva, Sea urchin larvae develop eight arms as they grow and swim around like unearthly underwater starships, Elizabeth Lenz
    Sea urchin larvae develop eight arms as they grow and swim around like unearthly underwater starships, Elizabeth Lenz

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen at sea?

I can’t imagine anything in nature being odd.

What’s the next big thing for your work?

Coral have some of the most restricted reproduction on the planet. Most coral spawn once a year for 45 mins each of two nights. This is a very short time window to figure out how to collect and preserve them. Unfortunately, bleaching is now becoming more common on most reefs, and this stress is damaging coral reproduction.

For example, last year we organised a field expedition to Mo'orea and the coral did not even spawn. This is both expensive and disheartening. As a result, we are initiating a new project to cryopreserve tiny fragments of coral, we call them micro-fragments.

If this is successful, we can work anywhere in the world at any time to help freeze coral. We are hoping that, once thawed, these tiny fragments of coral will quickly grow into mature coral in a few years that can reproduce.

Freezing micro-fragments will allow us to work more quickly, and train more people more broadly to help create these essential cryobanks. It is crucial to gather these frozen collections while the genetic diversity on the reefs is still broad.

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

One of my heroes is Ken Nedimyer. Ken embodies the ethic of ‘going out and trying to help fix the world one person at a time’. He is an amazing person. His work on coral restoration using coral trees, and his inspiration to a generation of people working in the field, has helped turn around a major loss of coral coverage in the Caribbean.

Reef Encounters: Dr. Laurie Raymundo

As part of International Year of the Reef, we're speaking to people who work with coral reefs, from filmmakers to fish taxonomists. Dr. Laurie Raymundo is a Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Guam, she told us about saving coral reefs and seeing a humpback whale "poop".

What is your typical day?

I spend quite a bit of time in front of my computer writing and analysing data, and much of the rest of the time is spent in the water on my research projects. I also do a bit of teaching here and there and, of course, I spend time mentoring my students, either via meetings in my lab or out in the water, teaching them the skills they will need to accomplish their thesis projects around the world.

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

When I was 11, I was snorkeling in the Philippines where I grew up, on Apo Island, before it was a Marine Protected Area.

My father was diving at the time. Even though I’d been snorkeling since I was six, that particular day was absolutely mesmerising underwater.

I was so caught up with what I was seeing that I ended up with the worst sunburn of my life but it was a pivotal event that I didn’t realise until much later would drive me to want to work in those systems for the rest of my life.

  • LJR UW by Cie, a photo taken of me by my son-in-law on Gabgab reef, Apra Harbor, Guam, watching a late afternoon spawning aggregation., Dr Laurie Raymundo
    a photo taken of me by my son-in-law on Gabgab reef, Apra Harbor, Guam, watching a late afternoon spawning aggregation., Dr Laurie Raymundo

What inspires you in your work?

The innate beauty of coral reefs keeps me going. The wanton destruction that the human species casually subjects these systems to is a difficult reality to cope with.

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

We must reduce CO2 emissions on a global scale. While I suspect corals and reefs are more resilient than we give them credit for, we have already lost much. If we can make this global effort, it will have lasting positive repercussions on many systems, including our own.

That is worth doing.

  • LJR, Taken in the Philippines, surveying for disease, Dr Laurie Raymundo
    Taken in the Philippines, surveying for disease, Dr Laurie Raymundo

What is your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

Do you mean aside from corals? My favorite coral is Galaxea archelia, which I find particularly beautiful.

Aside from corals, I’m really fond of cuttlefish of all kinds. They are so much fun to watch and play with because they are so intelligent and curious. They’re just seriously cool animals.

  • Galaxea_acrhelia, Galaxea archelia, CC BY 4.0: Michelle Jonker
    Galaxea archelia, CC BY 4.0: Michelle Jonker

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen at sea?

That’s a hard one. My students and I usually vie to see the coolest thing, which can sometimes be very odd.

Among my favorites would be seeing a humpback whale poop alongside our boat. My daughter was three years old at the time we saw this, so that was a really big thing for her.

Seeing guitarfish off Heron Island in Australia was also odd because guitarfish are odd.

  • Giant_guitarfish_georgia, The Guitarfish (right) is a type of ray found in warm waters., CC BY-SA 2.0: John LaPierre
    The Guitarfish (right) is a type of ray found in warm waters., CC BY-SA 2.0: John LaPierre

What’s the next big thing for your work?

Climate change-induced coral bleaching has really devastated reefs in Micronesia, where I live and work now.

My lab has begun focusing on coral propagation, culture, and restoration work for certain key species that we feel are vital to the future of Guam’s reefs. So, that is what I will continue to focus on into the foreseeable future.

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

There are so many great people doing incredible work.

I think it would have to be the fisherman on the island of Gilutangan in the Philippines, who was head of their Bantay Dagat (Watchers of the Sea) organisation.

These organisations are set up in coastal villages all throughout the country, for the purpose of protecting community-organised Marine Protected Areas.

The fisherman told us stories about how, when the MPA was first being established, his wife would yell at him about why he was giving up fishing grounds when he had a family to feed, but he understood why they needed the MPA, why they needed to control their fishing and allow a part of the reef to be protected and unfished. He was thinking about his children, about tomorrow, about the fact that he could no longer catch big fish.

A few years later, a local politician was trying to take over their MPA so he could build a resort on that island and push out the fishers and open the MPA. It was totally illegal, but he was more powerful than the fishers were. I don’t know what happened after that. I hope the fishermen won.

  • Methods_working on nursery, myself, students, and volunteers doing basic maintenance and assessment on nursery corals, Dr Laurie Raymundo
    myself, students, and volunteers doing basic maintenance and assessment on nursery corals, Dr Laurie Raymundo

Reef Encounters: Adriana Humanes

As part of International Year of the Reef, we spoke with Adriana Humanes, a marine ecologist, who believes we need to "be more responsible for our actions" to save our coral reefs.

What is your typical day?

My typical day starts with a cup of tea and a good breakfast after which I jump to work, either in the office or the field.

None of my days are identical. Every single day is different and that’s what I love about being a scientist.

I might spend some days reading new papers about corals, while others I might be diving in a beautiful reef.

  • Adriana Humanes, "None of my days are identical. Every single day is different.", Adriana Humanes
    "None of my days are identical. Every single day is different.", Adriana Humanes

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

I realised I wanted to become a marine ecologist after taking a course on animal biology during my undergraduate career.

That was taught by an incredible woman who three years later became my supervisor. Her passion for coral reefs and marine organisms was just contagious and inspired me to discover the fantastic world that lives under the sea.

What inspires you in your work?

Corals are my inspiration, they are great organisms to study. They’re diverse and complex which allows you to test some really interesting hypotheses.

However, they are really difficult to work with, since it is extremely hard to maintain corals in aquarium conditions and it’s also difficult to conduct research in their natural habitats.

  • Coral Reef, "Corals are my inspiration, they are great organisms to study. They're diverse and complex.", Adriana Humanes
    "Corals are my inspiration, they are great organisms to study. They're diverse and complex.", Adriana Humanes

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

Every activity we do has an effect on the environment, and most of them will affect the oceans considering that they cover 71% of the Earth's surface.

Every time you buy something think if it’s indispensable in your life, or if you would be able to continue living without it. We need to stop producing so much waste. Instead, we should reuse and recycle as much as possible.

If you want your children and grandchildren to be able to see the beauty of coral reefs as we know them today, we need to change our consumption behaviour and be more responsible for our actions.

What's your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

I love mushroom corals since I find fascinating that a single polyp can reach such large sizes. Also, I like the fact that they are not attached to the substrate and move across the reef and that some species are able to change sex according to the environmental conditions.

  • Mushroom Coral, "I love mushroom corals since I find fascinating that a single polyp can reach such large sizes.", Jonathan Zander (CC BY-SA 3.0)
    "I love mushroom corals since I find fascinating that a single polyp can reach such large sizes.", Jonathan Zander (CC BY-SA 3.0)

What's the oddest thing you've seen at sea?

Reefs in Palau that develop in the base of the Rocky Island are really unusual. They have such dramatic colours and it’s home to coral colonies with the strangest growth forms I have ever seen.

In those reefs it’s also common to see trees in the slope of the reef since the forest develops just above the water, so when trees fall they land on the reef.

  • Palau Reefs, "Reefs in Palau that develop in the base of the Rocky Island are really unusual.", Adriana Humanes
    "Reefs in Palau that develop in the base of the Rocky Island are really unusual.", Adriana Humanes

What kit do you use when taking photos?

I don’t stick to a single camera since usually I use the camera available in the laboratory. We now have an Olympus TG5 and GoPro Hero 4.

I think that the gear is not as important as the eye of the photographer. If you understand how the camera works you can get amazing pictures with basic equipment.

What's the next big thing for your work?

We are currently trying to find a method to improve the survivability of coral produced in laboratories.

It may sound simple but it's a really challenging task. It is a real bottleneck and is preventing us from developing successful restoration techniques for coral reefs.

  • Adriana Humanes, "Every single marine biologist working actively in research and conservation of coral reefs is my hero. Even more, I admire every single woman leading a research team", Adriana Humanes
    "Every single marine biologist working actively in research and conservation of coral reefs is my hero. Even more, I admire every single woman leading a research team", Adriana Humanes

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

Every single marine biologist working actively in research and conservation of coral reefs is my hero.

Even more, I admire every single woman leading a research team, since women, in addition, need to fight against gender inequality in STEM.

For me, Sylvia Earle, Nicole Webster, Sheila Marques Pauls, Carolina Bastidas, Katharina Fabricius, Barbara Brown, Betty Willis have been important role models shaping my career.

I love mentoring the next generation of marine ecologists and I consider myself an advocate for diversity and gender equality in STEM. 

Reef Encounters: Lee Goldman

We caught up with Lee Goldman who leads educational snorkeling tours, as part of International Year of the Reef, who is teaching people the importance of coral reefs through educational tours.

What is your typical day?

Breakfast. Snorkel until lunch. Lunch. Snorkel until dinner. Dinner. Bed.

  • Snorkeler in the Banda Islands, Lee leads tours in the Coral Triangle, a marine area encompassing the tropical waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Papua New Guinea, Lee Goldman
    Lee leads tours in the Coral Triangle, a marine area encompassing the tropical waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Papua New Guinea, Lee Goldman

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

The moment my facemask hit the water in Palau, I knew I wanted to work in this part of the world. I began guiding in Palau and several years later I completed my Master’s degree in marine biology as a way to further my guiding career.

Shortly after finishing school, I had the opportunity to design and lead snorkeling tours for several high-end travel companies like Wilderness Travel and WWF travel programs. After many years of this, I started my own travel business with a colleague of mine and we continue to offer high-quality snorkeling programs.

  • PNG_snorkeler, "The moment my facemask hit the water...I knew I wanted to work in this part of the world", Lee Goldman
    "The moment my facemask hit the water...I knew I wanted to work in this part of the world", Lee Goldman

What inspires you in your work?

Snorkeling amongst healthy, colorful, and productive reefs.

What would your message for the future of the reefs be?

At this point, with things going the way they are, there isn’t much of a future for reefs as we recognise them today.

Reef communities will change, and whether they will change for the better or worse will be revealed, but if the world wants to have the reefs of today for generations to come, we will need a major change in the way we all approach life.

  • Raja Ampat_1, "If the world wants to have the reefs of today for generations to come, we will need a major change in the way we all approach life.", Lee Goldman
    "If the world wants to have the reefs of today for generations to come, we will need a major change in the way we all approach life.", Lee Goldman

What’s your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

People ask all the time, but I honestly don’t have a favorite.

For me seeing a healthy reef community is my favorite thing.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen at sea?

I guess the oddest thing I have seen would be the time Orcas chased a seal onto the swim-step of our research boat. I don’t know if that counts as oddest more than rarest, but it stands out for me.

The oddest creature would have to be the pearlfish.

  • Pearlfish, Pearlfish are peculiar due to their habit of hiding inside sea cucumbers
    Pearlfish are peculiar due to their habit of hiding inside sea cucumbers

What kit do you use when taking photos?

Lumix GX-7 on a Nauticam housing. Twin Inon 240z lights. My favourite lens is the 60mm (120mm equivalent) macro.

  • Snorkeler, "For me seeing a healthy reef community is my favorite thing", Lee Goldman
    "For me seeing a healthy reef community is my favorite thing", Lee Goldman

What’s the next big thing for your work?

New destinations. Each year we try to explore a new area for snorkeling.

We have new itineraries in Papua New Guinea, Halmahera, and the Solomon Islands on the horizon.

  • Split reef scene PNG, "Each year we try to explore a new area for snorkeling.", Lee Goldman
    "Each year we try to explore a new area for snorkeling.", Lee Goldman

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

Any scientist that is putting their research time and money into solving the root of the reef-health problems.

In other words, I greatly admire the type of scientist who is developing new techniques for waste management in 3rd world countries to stop reefs degrading in the first place.

  • Wart frogfish, The warty frogfish can change its colouration to blend in with its surroundings, Lee Goldman
    The warty frogfish can change its colouration to blend in with its surroundings, Lee Goldman

Reef Encounters: Dr Michael Sweet

As part of International Year of the Reef, we're speaking to people who work with coral reefs, from filmmakers to fish taxonomists. Dr. Michael Sweet, researcher and lecturer at the University of Derby, tells us how 'with a bit of luck and a lot of work' we can save coral reefs around the world.

What is your typical day?

As a full-time academic, each of my days is very different. Like all in my position, a good 20% of my time is taken up by administration. I am then in charge of a large and very active research team with five Ph.D. students and three Post Doctorates and so time is spent in meetings with these early career researchers and in the field, assisting with sampling when possible. Of course, I try to cram in some teaching along the way as well and make myself available to the even younger minds which need inspiring.

Then, and only then, I might get in the lab myself to start on a new topic or write up some of the work we have already analysed.

  • Dr Michael Sweet 01, Dr Michael Sweet collects snails for study from Porites Turbinaria, Dr Michael Sweet
    Dr Michael Sweet collects snails for study from Porites Turbinaria, Dr Michael Sweet

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be in some form of zoological career. My mum was a countryside ranger so I spent many an evening and weekend in the wilds of my home county of Lancashire. I may not have been exactly close to the marine environments I now study I grant you, but we spent a few holidays by the coast which inspired me further.

When University came around I toyed around between choosing marine biology or zoology and opted for the latter. I then spent four years traveling around the world working on a variety of projects from individual identification in whale sharks, to research on the most endangered bird at the time, the black robin of the Chatham Islands. I then moved in the direction of getting a Ph.D. and this was where the coral work started.

  • Dr Michael Sweet 02, Dr. Sweet is well known for his work on coral diseases but also takes part in a variety of other studies, Dr Michael Sweet
    Dr. Sweet is well known for his work on coral diseases but also takes part in a variety of other studies, Dr Michael Sweet

What inspires you in your work?

My inspiration starts with the teaching of the undergraduate students who really show the passion for their chosen career and ends, if it ever really ends, with my team of excellent researchers who work tirelessly to answer some very interesting questions.

Every day is different, every day is exciting, and every day we work to try and make our world a better place. A better place for us as humans but also a better place for the rest of the organisms we share our home with, be they the smallest viruses or bacteria, the corals or sponges, or the fish in our oceans and rivers.

  • IMG_1418, 'Every day is different, every day is exciting, and every day we work to try and make our world a better place', Dr Michael Sweet
    'Every day is different, every day is exciting, and every day we work to try and make our world a better place', Dr Michael Sweet

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

To be honest, it's looking bad but we should not lose hope. If we all do our bit we can certainly make a difference and hopefully, with a bit of luck and a lot of work we can preserve reefs for future generations. They may not look exactly how we know them to be but I do believe that life will find a way and corals as a whole will keep on fighting.

  • bleaching, Coral bleaching occurs when coral expels the algae they rely on to survive from their tissues, Dr Michael Sweet
    Coral bleaching occurs when coral expels the algae they rely on to survive from their tissues, Dr Michael Sweet

What’s your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

I should probably say the corals themselves but I have a soft spot for octopuses – so beautiful, so clever – I just think they are so amazing.

  • Dr Michael Sweet 03, Above-average sea temperatures caused by global warming have been identified as the leading cause of coral bleaching incidents, Dr Michael Sweet
    Above-average sea temperatures caused by global warming have been identified as the leading cause of coral bleaching incidents, Dr Michael Sweet

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen at sea?

A whole container full of toilets sunk in the Red Sea was a little weird.

  • Dr Michael Sweet 04, In 2016, bleaching events killed between 29% to 50% of coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Dr Michael Sweet
    In 2016, bleaching events killed between 29% to 50% of coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Dr Michael Sweet

What kit do you use?

Cannon PowerShot G9X with custom housing.

  • Dr Michael Sweet 05, 'If we all do our bit we can certainly make a difference and hopefully, with a bit of luck and a lot of work we can preserve reefs for future generations', Dr Michael Sweet
    'If we all do our bit we can certainly make a difference and hopefully, with a bit of luck and a lot of work we can preserve reefs for future generations', Dr Michael Sweet

What’s the next big thing for your work?

We’re exploring the implications of ‘human-assisted evolution’ with some collaborators with regard to restoration efforts for some areas. In particular, we are focusing on the importance of coral's bacterial communities known as the microbiome in coral resilience and susceptibility to aspects of climate change.

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

I always struggle with this. I guess my obvious hero would be my old mentor and supervisor Professor John Bythell who took me in to complete my Ph.D. and nurtured my interest in corals and the diseases which plague them.

However, there have been a number of others whose work inspire me on a daily basis and not just the well-established researchers. My students keep my passion alive and make me feel that what we do is worthwhile.

Furthermore, the dedication I see from other groups and fields of interest such as hobbyists and aquarium curators is also heroic. Their knowledge is second to none, in what makes a coral tick and how to look after them and it’s these guys who may well be the unsung hero in the field of coral reef biology.

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