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Reef Encounters: Adriana Humanes

As part of International Year of the Reef, we spoke with Adriana Humanes, a marine ecologist, who believes we need to "be more responsible for our actions" to save our coral reefs.

What is your typical day?

My typical day starts with a cup of tea and a good breakfast after which I jump to work, either in the office or the field.

None of my days are identical. Every single day is different and that’s what I love about being a scientist.

I might spend some days reading new papers about corals, while others I might be diving in a beautiful reef.

  • Adriana Humanes, "None of my days are identical. Every single day is different.", Adriana Humanes
    "None of my days are identical. Every single day is different.", Adriana Humanes

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

I realised I wanted to become a marine ecologist after taking a course on animal biology during my undergraduate career.

That was taught by an incredible woman who three years later became my supervisor. Her passion for coral reefs and marine organisms was just contagious and inspired me to discover the fantastic world that lives under the sea.

What inspires you in your work?

Corals are my inspiration, they are great organisms to study. They’re diverse and complex which allows you to test some really interesting hypotheses.

However, they are really difficult to work with, since it is extremely hard to maintain corals in aquarium conditions and it’s also difficult to conduct research in their natural habitats.

  • Coral Reef, "Corals are my inspiration, they are great organisms to study. They're diverse and complex.", Adriana Humanes
    "Corals are my inspiration, they are great organisms to study. They're diverse and complex.", Adriana Humanes

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

Every activity we do has an effect on the environment, and most of them will affect the oceans considering that they cover 71% of the Earth's surface.

Every time you buy something think if it’s indispensable in your life, or if you would be able to continue living without it. We need to stop producing so much waste. Instead, we should reuse and recycle as much as possible.

If you want your children and grandchildren to be able to see the beauty of coral reefs as we know them today, we need to change our consumption behaviour and be more responsible for our actions.

What's your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

I love mushroom corals since I find fascinating that a single polyp can reach such large sizes. Also, I like the fact that they are not attached to the substrate and move across the reef and that some species are able to change sex according to the environmental conditions.

  • Mushroom Coral, "I love mushroom corals since I find fascinating that a single polyp can reach such large sizes.", Jonathan Zander (CC BY-SA 3.0)
    "I love mushroom corals since I find fascinating that a single polyp can reach such large sizes.", Jonathan Zander (CC BY-SA 3.0)

What's the oddest thing you've seen at sea?

Reefs in Palau that develop in the base of the Rocky Island are really unusual. They have such dramatic colours and it’s home to coral colonies with the strangest growth forms I have ever seen.

In those reefs it’s also common to see trees in the slope of the reef since the forest develops just above the water, so when trees fall they land on the reef.

  • Palau Reefs, "Reefs in Palau that develop in the base of the Rocky Island are really unusual.", Adriana Humanes
    "Reefs in Palau that develop in the base of the Rocky Island are really unusual.", Adriana Humanes

What kit do you use when taking photos?

I don’t stick to a single camera since usually I use the camera available in the laboratory. We now have an Olympus TG5 and GoPro Hero 4.

I think that the gear is not as important as the eye of the photographer. If you understand how the camera works you can get amazing pictures with basic equipment.

What's the next big thing for your work?

We are currently trying to find a method to improve the survivability of coral produced in laboratories.

It may sound simple but it's a really challenging task. It is a real bottleneck and is preventing us from developing successful restoration techniques for coral reefs.

  • Adriana Humanes, "Every single marine biologist working actively in research and conservation of coral reefs is my hero. Even more, I admire every single woman leading a research team", Adriana Humanes
    "Every single marine biologist working actively in research and conservation of coral reefs is my hero. Even more, I admire every single woman leading a research team", Adriana Humanes

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

Every single marine biologist working actively in research and conservation of coral reefs is my hero.

Even more, I admire every single woman leading a research team, since women, in addition, need to fight against gender inequality in STEM.

For me, Sylvia Earle, Nicole Webster, Sheila Marques Pauls, Carolina Bastidas, Katharina Fabricius, Barbara Brown, Betty Willis have been important role models shaping my career.

I love mentoring the next generation of marine ecologists and I consider myself an advocate for diversity and gender equality in STEM.