SEA Days: 100 Island Challenge

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days!

As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego or local researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

Name: Clinton Edwards

Hometown: Ojai, California

Schooling Background: I received my BSc and MSc from UCSD in the Biology department (focus Ecology, behavior and Evolution). After working as a staff researcher for the last three years, I’m now a PhD student in Marine Biology.

1 word to describe a characteristic a scientist must have: Creativity

How does coral reef research affect a person’s everyday life?

This question is hard for me on a lot of levels. First, depending on if you are a person living a subsistence lifestyle on a coral fringed island the answer is everything. While if you live in a place like Minnesota and work in an office building the answer is potentially very little. Personally, I don’t think that there has to be a tangible effect on a persons everyday life for them to care about coral reefs. They harbor immense biodiversity, are inherently beautiful and are excellent model ecosystems for us to conduct good science and learn more about the natural world as a whole. Also, I think that they can be used as an example to teach people about how our actions have real and lasting impacts on the natural world.

How did you decide to work on this particular issue?

I had always been interested in ecology in general, but after taking a spatial ecology class with a focus on quantitative methods, I really enjoyed it and afterwards I went to work for the professor as a research assistant. Unfortunately, it was a terrestrial ecology lab, so I went looking for a lab at Scripps to work with. After reading papers by Dr. Stuart Sandin and Dr. Jennifer Smith, I knew that I wanted to work with them and started my masters with Dr. Smith shortly thereafter. I originally wanted to work on fisheries, but Dr. Sandin, who also had a terrestrial spatial ecology background, started a new project using large area imaging and mapping techniques to study coral populations and it was just too cool to stay working on fish.

Edwards studying coral in the Northern Marianas Islands.

How do you predict the story of coral reefs will change in the future?

I think that the future is complicated. Coral reefs are under pretty heavy threats from local pressures like sedimentation, pollution and overfishing, but also from global threats like ocean acidification and warming. Those local threats are really what’s to blame for a lot of degradation that has happened to date, and honestly I think that these factors really aren’t that hard to manage and we are in fact doing a better and better job at managing them, so the future is super bright in that respect!  On the other hand, I think it’s pretty clear that global threats are starting to become more and more real. These threats are driven by the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. If our global society can’t make changes to cap and reduce our carbon output, these threats will increase and their impact will be pretty serious. That said, I’m not nearly ready to throw my hands up and run around screaming that the sky is falling. I think that under the expected climate change scenarios were are probably looking at a situation where we will loose 1/3 of the world’s reefs (at least in the way that we want to see them), with up to another 1/3 probably not being affected that dramatically. The last 1/3 is a wildcard though, and they could go either way.

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego