By Nancy Knowlton
Once upon a time, a career as a marine biologist conjured images of days spent diving amid beautiful sea creatures. These days, it can often feel like being an undertaker for the oceans.
Early in my career, I witnessed first-hand the depressing side of the job. The coral reefs off the north coast of Jamaica, where I had spent several magical years as a graduate student in the mid 1970s, were struck by a category-5 hurricane in 1980. Then came mysterious ailments that devastated two of the most important coral species, along with a species of sea urchin that, because of previous overfishing, had become the last defence against a tide of seaweed that was choking the struggling coral. Ten years after my first dive in Jamaica, the reefs I’d studied were all but gone.
These days, students studying reefs spend their time investigating bleaching and acidification, terms that were never mentioned when I took my first coral-reef class in 1974.
As we observe Earth Day on 22 April, it’s worth recounting how researchers like myself have managed to rebound a bit from all this depressing news.
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