Dr. Knowlton begins her talk by explaining what corals are and how they build reefs. Using many spectacular photographs, Knowlton illustrates the decline of most of the world’s coral reefs over the past 30-40 years. She describes the effects of direct destruction such as dynamite fishing, as well as the more indirect, but equally catastrophic, effects of invasive species, excessive nutrients due to terrestrial run off, and ocean warming. She ends on a more hopeful note, showing how stringent conservation efforts in some places have resulted in healthier, more resilient reefs.
In Part 2, Knowlton talks about the phenomenal biodiversity found in coral communities and why this diversity is important to reef health. She explains how difficult it is to classify corals and the many organisms with which they co-exist, and how modern genetic methods are proving much of the traditional taxonomy to be wrong. The Census of Marine Life project, of which Knowlton is a partner, is striving to find standardized and easily automated methods to take a global census of the biodiversity of coral reefs and results so far suggest the diversity is truly enormous.
Nancy Knowlton received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a professor at Yale University before moving to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and later joining the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Currently, she is the Sant Chair in Marine… Continue Reading