I am a marine biologist, educator, photographer, and surfer earning my Ph.D. at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. I received my BSc studying botany and plant-fungal symbiosis at the University of North Texas and my MSc studying reef corals and climate change in Taiwan and Moʻorea French Polynesia. Presently, I am a research fellow with the Environmental Protection Agency’s STAR (Science To Achieve Results) program and a Denise B. Evans research fellow at UH Mānoa’s Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology. I also serve as an adjunct faculty in Life Sciences at Santa Monica College in California, where I teach an online introductory course in marine biology.
As a scientist I am interested in the effects of changing environmental conditions on marine organisms, particularly in symbiotic systems such as reef corals. These curious invertebrates, often confused as rocks, are the ecological engineers of tropical coral reef ecosystems. Reef corals, fueled by the photosynthesis of their unicellular symbiotic algae, literally build the architecture of coral reefs, and in the process provide habitat for a multitude of organisms. However, coral reefs are under threat. Global climate change and the warming and acidification of seawater are contributing to coral bleaching and declining coral growth. In addition, local factors such as nutrient pollution, coastal development, and over fishing can have devastating impacts on coral reefs.
Championing the conservation of coral reefs starts with effective science education and communication. Indeed, as we pass the centennial of the National Park Service, we could learn from the example of pioneering American photographer Ansel Adams, who showed that a photograph can compel laymen and politicians to great environmental stewardship. To foster coral reef education, I created an interactive website, COR(AL)OHA, which uses photography, videos, and digital coral reef-scapes. Students and adults can accompany me into the research laboratory or join me for an interactive-digital SCUBA dive (even if you can’t swim). I use this digital platform in education and outreach all over the United States, including at schools here in Hawaiʻi and in guest video-lectures at high schools and colleges in California, Texas, and Georgia.
Sharing my science digitally is great but nothing beats a one-on-one, live interaction with a student. I am also active in science mentorship with aspiring young scientists from middle school through the undergraduate level.
While we might not all live by an ocean, actions we take far from the sea can have far-reaching implications, even for the coral reefs. In the end, saving coral reefs will require confronting our global carbon emissions, while mitigating local stressors, and will depend on the efforts of scientists, conservation educators and activists, communicators, and innovators as well as the ingenuity of young minds. For some, the inspiration to confront climate change may first come from experiencing the beauty of the natural world—digitally or in the flesh—and understanding what another century of “business as usual” may mean for biodiversity hotspots, such as coral reefs.
If you are interested in my research, I’d love to hear from you—contact me via email or follow me on twitter @coraloha or visit my website. You can also learn more about the research within the Laboratory of Dr. Ruth Gates at the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology here.
Mahalo a nui loa and aloha!