As part of International Year of the Reef, we're speaking to people who work with coral reefs, from filmmakers to fish taxonomists. Dr. Laurie Raymundo is a Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Guam, she told us about saving coral reefs and seeing a humpback whale "poop".
What is your typical day?
I spend quite a bit of time in front of my computer writing and analysing data, and much of the rest of the time is spent in the water on my research projects. I also do a bit of teaching here and there and, of course, I spend time mentoring my students, either via meetings in my lab or out in the water, teaching them the skills they will need to accomplish their thesis projects around the world.
When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?
When I was 11, I was snorkeling in the Philippines where I grew up, on Apo Island, before it was a Marine Protected Area.
My father was diving at the time. Even though I’d been snorkeling since I was six, that particular day was absolutely mesmerising underwater.
I was so caught up with what I was seeing that I ended up with the worst sunburn of my life but it was a pivotal event that I didn’t realise until much later would drive me to want to work in those systems for the rest of my life.
a photo taken of me by my son-in-law on Gabgab reef, Apra Harbor, Guam, watching a late afternoon spawning aggregation., Dr Laurie Raymundo
What inspires you in your work?
The innate beauty of coral reefs keeps me going. The wanton destruction that the human species casually subjects these systems to is a difficult reality to cope with.
What would your message for the future of reefs be?
We must reduce CO2 emissions on a global scale. While I suspect corals and reefs are more resilient than we give them credit for, we have already lost much. If we can make this global effort, it will have lasting positive repercussions on many systems, including our own.
That is worth doing.
Taken in the Philippines, surveying for disease, Dr Laurie Raymundo
What is your favourite creature on the reef, and why?
Do you mean aside from corals? My favorite coral is Galaxea archelia, which I find particularly beautiful.
Aside from corals, I’m really fond of cuttlefish of all kinds. They are so much fun to watch and play with because they are so intelligent and curious. They’re just seriously cool animals.
Galaxea archelia, CC BY 4.0: Michelle Jonker
What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen at sea?
That’s a hard one. My students and I usually vie to see the coolest thing, which can sometimes be very odd.
Among my favorites would be seeing a humpback whale poop alongside our boat. My daughter was three years old at the time we saw this, so that was a really big thing for her.
Seeing guitarfish off Heron Island in Australia was also odd because guitarfish are odd.
The Guitarfish (right) is a type of ray found in warm waters., CC BY-SA 2.0: John LaPierre
What’s the next big thing for your work?
Climate change-induced coral bleaching has really devastated reefs in Micronesia, where I live and work now.
My lab has begun focusing on coral propagation, culture, and restoration work for certain key species that we feel are vital to the future of Guam’s reefs. So, that is what I will continue to focus on into the foreseeable future.
Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?
There are so many great people doing incredible work.
I think it would have to be the fisherman on the island of Gilutangan in the Philippines, who was head of their Bantay Dagat (Watchers of the Sea) organisation.
These organisations are set up in coastal villages all throughout the country, for the purpose of protecting community-organised Marine Protected Areas.
The fisherman told us stories about how, when the MPA was first being established, his wife would yell at him about why he was giving up fishing grounds when he had a family to feed, but he understood why they needed the MPA, why they needed to control their fishing and allow a part of the reef to be protected and unfished. He was thinking about his children, about tomorrow, about the fact that he could no longer catch big fish.
A few years later, a local politician was trying to take over their MPA so he could build a resort on that island and push out the fishers and open the MPA. It was totally illegal, but he was more powerful than the fishers were. I don’t know what happened after that. I hope the fishermen won.
myself, students, and volunteers doing basic maintenance and assessment on nursery corals, Dr Laurie Raymundo