Optimistic Hot Spots - 2019 Rolex Awards Associate Laureate Emma Camp
PORTFOLIO Magazine|September 2021
The world’s coral reefs may be largely gone by the 2030s, but a biologist’s discovery of coral reefs that are thriving under harsh conditions is fuelling hope for a large-scale rehabilitation and survival of coral reefs around the world.
Victor Chen

Marine biologist and 2019 Rolex Awards Associate Laureate Emma Camp is helping coral reefs survive the rapid environmental damage that they are experiencing due to climate change. She is locating and studying the world’s most tolerant corals to understand how some of them survive extremely harsh environmental conditions that typically kill others. Through her work, Emma is unlocking new understanding on the mechanisms that support coral resilience and is now using this knowledge to see how it can be applied to repopulate coral reefs that have been impacted by bleaching and other forms of coral death.

“My mission is to help conserve coral reefs, but also to inspire people to engage with nature and preserve the world’s valuable ecosystems by addressing climate change,” Camp tells Portfolio. “My work is funded through a variety of sources that include the government, my university, philanthropic groups, and awards such as the Rolex Awards for Enterprise.”

It’s not very easy for everyone to grasp the benefits that can be derived from healthy, thriving coral reefs. How do you explain to laymen why protecting and reviving coral reefs is important?

A healthy coral reef provides many important ecosystem services. They can be considered the rainforest of the sea, although covering less than 1 per cent of the ocean floor, they house over 25 per cent of marine life. Coral reefs also provide essential coastal protection from storms and support fish stocks. Many of our medicine also contain compounds originating from organisms found in coral reefs. They also have a significant cultural value for many communities around the world and bring in revenues through tourism activities.

How has being chosen as a Rolex Awards Laureate helped your work?

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