2019 Rolex Awards Associate Laureate
Marine biologist and explorer Emma Camp is out to find the world’s toughest corals – and use them in the struggle to reverse the devastation wreaked by climate change and human activity.
Exploring a range of coral habitats globally, the UK-born researcher noticed several places where corals are managing to survive, despite extreme and hostile water conditions. The corals she found live in the hot, acidic and low-oxygen waters around mangroves: and appear resilient to conditions similar to those which humans are inflicting on the world’s coral reefs.
These “hot-spots of coral resilience” may hold the key to understanding coral survival in the face of climate change, and ultimately how best to repopulate reefs ravaged by a warming climate, acidifying water and other human-inflicted damage, Camp argues. “We need to think outside the box. We need to go back to nature and see how it’s survived for so long and use that knowledge, combined with innovation and technology, to try to conserve what we've got”, she adds.
Camp, aged 32, plans to explore new resilience hotspots on the northern Great Barrier Reef – the Low Isles and Howick Island – study the corals there, identify key traits involved in their resilience and, for the first time, try to transplant them to areas devastated by mass coral death.
She will use citizen scientists to monitor how well these corals survive and recolonize devastated areas. In time she hopes to train many local stakeholders and ecotourism communities in innovative coral restoration techniques, to make good the damage wrought by heedless human actions.