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Reef Encounters: Laura Puk

This month as part of our Reef Encounters series we spoke to Laura Puk, a PhD student at the University of Queensland, who is researching how damaging microalgae are spreading across coral reefs.

What is your typical day?

That depends a lot on whether I am in the field or working in the office. When I’m in the field - which can often be for weeks or months at a time - we’re often out on the water for the better part of the day. After coming back home, we need to clean our dive equipment, take care of samples, input the collected data, or work on all the pictures taken.

When I’m in the office my day is very different and much more computer-based. I either work on the data collected during my field trip, read papers, write, or do all the little things that come up on the side.

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

I’ve wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember. My interest in coral reef research began when I took a gap year after my undergraduate degree and helped monitor coral reefs in Madagascar.

  • Laura Puk 01, "I've wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember."
    "I've wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember."

What inspires you in your work? 

The unbelievable diversity of life and intricate interactions between marine organisms. There’s still so much to discover.

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

I think coral reefs have a chance if we don’t lose hope and act now. Coral reefs are in grave danger and the coral reefs of the future may look different to what we know. However, if everyone puts in an effort we may be able to preserve these incredible ecosystems and the services they provide to people. 

  • Laura Puk 02, "I think coral reefs have a chance if we don't lose hope and act now."
    "I think coral reefs have a chance if we don't lose hope and act now."

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

That’s a difficult one. I sort of have a soft spot for rabbitfish, probably because of their ability to feed on algae and because rabbitfish pairs look out for each other.

  • Rabbitfish, "rabbitfish pairs look out for each other", Leonard Low/CCBY2.0
    "rabbitfish pairs look out for each other", Leonard Low/CCBY2.0

Sharks also still get me. When I first see them my heart rate goes up, but when you watch them calmly swimming along, it’s oddly relaxing.

What kit do you use?

Until recently I used a Sony RX 100 with an underwater housing, but I just got a housing for my Olympus om-d e-m 5 and am super excited to start playing around with it.

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

I actually don’t have a proper ‘reef hero’. I admire Jane Goodall, even though she’s worked on chimpanzees not coral reefs. She went to Africa in the 1950s and 1960s as a young woman to become a scientist in a society where that wasn’t an easy journey to make. Since then she’s worked for decades to promote conservation in every field and inspired thousands and thousands of people around the world.