We’ve just finished up a really fun and productive workshop that brought some great minds in marine science – Emily Darling and Marah Hardt – to Sydney to think about how emerging technologies can be best harnessed for coral reef conservation. During the workshop, we also ran a half-day masterclass for grad students, postdocs and faculty from all areas of science on “Making your science matter: Linking science with action to improve the world”. Prof. Lesley Hughes co-taught the class and added a unique perspective from her years of experience in international conservation and science communication. The workshop and masterclass were both generously funded by Macquarie University’s Research Enrichment Program and we had the pleasure of working on the water’s edge at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science. There’s nothing like a beautiful view to inspire productivity!
This week I put on my ‘business suit’ and gave a talk to our daughters’ Montessori school on World Oceans Day about the oceans, especially coral reefs, and what we can do to help them. I told them about all the things the oceans do for people, and how, for example, lots of people all around the world depend on coral reefs to feed their families. “Why aren’t we taking care of the corals, then?” one of them asked. A pretty obvious question, but one that isn’t easy to answer. If more people understood the connection between their carbon-producing daily activities (e.g., driving, flying, air conditioning, food choices, etc.), AND the same people had an emotional connection of some sort with reefs, perhaps humanity would collectively be doing a better job of curbing our impacts on coral reefs. Talking to children like this is one way I can make a teensy tiny difference in both of those regards. Hopefully by the time these children are old enough to make their own decisions, saving coral reefs will still be an option.
We took to the streets in Sydney this past weekend, along with hundreds of thousands of other concerned people all over the world, to call for evidence-based policy decisions in the best interest of humanity and the planet. Worryingly, as we all know, science and even basic truthfulness is currently under heavy attack in US politics. We nearly didn’t make it out the door to get to the march in time, thanks to a series of pretty standard parenting mishaps…but we persisted nonetheless, both for the sake of making out voice heard and teaching our children to do the same. Hopefully, in the coming years, the pendulum will swing back towards fact- and evidence-based decision making. But if not, at least we’ve primed our personal next generation to get out there and keep on shouting until it does.
This week I had the pleasure of being part of a small contingent from the Australian Coral Reef Society to brief The Honourable Mark Butler, the Parliamentary Shadow Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water on the threats facing Australian coral reefs and possible policy-based solutions. It was a rare and welcome opportunity to do my part to help bridge the science-policy gap! Mr. Butler was well-informed and interested in what we had to say, asking great questions and likewise helping us to understand the political considerations surrounding coral reef conservation policy. Hopefully this will be the start of an ongoing dialogue between the Shadow Minister’s office and our scientific society.
UPDATE: Now, two weeks later, the Labour Party has announced that it will pledge $500m over five years to support scientific monitoring and science-based management of the Great Barrier Reef. Labour leader Bill Shorten said the GBR is now one of party’s ‘highest priorities’. Hopefully we had some role in helping make that the case!
Due largely to the record-breaking high temperatures we’ve had lately, large sections of the northern Great Barrier Reef have begun bleaching (i.e., expelling the symbiotic algae that live within coral tissue and serve as a life-support system for corals). This is very bad news. In past bleaching events like this, some coral reefs never recover and become seaweed-dominated reefs lacking coral. Most experts agree that the root causes of the high temperatures (and the resulting coral bleaching events) include the burning of fossil fuels and release of other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (e.g., through beef production)…which are both ultimately driven by human overpopulation and overconsumption.
Below are some recent photos taken by coral reef scientists Wen-Sung Chung and Justin Marshall (University of Queensland) from Lizard Island on Australia’s northern Great Barrier Reef. They tell a sad, rapidly-unfolding story of desperate corals.