The coral scientist buying time against climate change

In an interview with CNN, British-born marine biologist Emma Camp explains why she’s leading the fight to preserve the world’s coral reefs.

Coral reefs support a quarter of the world’s marine life, but approximately half the world’s coral has already been lost according to the WWF. Speaking as part of CNN’s Call to Earth initiative, Camp believes we can still save what is left.

A lot of people have never seen a coral reef and may never see a coral reef. So, I think the way that we have to approach this is through education. Explaining to people what corals are, working out what the connection is that that person may have to a coral reef to make them feel emotive and to care.”

Camp’s work involves searching the globe to find the world’s toughest and most resilient corals – the ones with the best chance of surviving the climate crisis.

She has studied corals growing in mangrove lagoons across the world, including the Caribbean, New Caledonia, Seychelles, Indonesia and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In these mangrove lagoons, Camp explains that the waters are naturally warm, acidic, with low oxygen levels – the same stressors killing off coral on the main reef.

Her aim is to find out the special qualities that allow them to survive in such a hostile environment. Part of this research includes “transplantations” to understand how corals behave in different conditions: “We move some of the corals from the mangroves to the reef. And then, for the same species of coral, we take some from the reef and bring them into the mangroves and we look at all of those parameters again to see whether or not the resilient corals stay resilient when they’re moved out of the environment.”

By conducting these transplantations alongside exploring and studying a range of coral habitats globally, Camp has discovered several places where certain corals are managing to prosper, despite the most unfavourable conditions.

CNN hears that Camp has been globally recognised for her research findings, including being named an Associate Laureate of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise last year. However, whilst she remains hopeful for the future, she tells CNN her work is just “buying time” against climate change.

I am hopeful for the future, but I’m also becoming increasingly concerned that time is running out. If we don’t act, these critically important ecosystems, not just coral reefs, but also the rainforests and our polar regions, are going to be degraded to a point where we actually can’t go back.