News / Industry News & Events / National Geographic backs Kiwi researching dying coral reefs (05/08/18)

National Geographic backs Kiwi researching dying coral reefs


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A Kiwi coral reef researcher has seen first hand the devastating effects of coral bleaching.

Following a 2016 trip to the Maldives, snorkelling amongst the best coral she had ever seen, Tracey Turner returned several months later to find a major bleaching event had affected around 70 per cent of coral in areas she had monitored.

Important not only to sea life, the islands themselves - which are made of coral sand - are dependent on a functioning coral ecosystem.

"All of the islands are reliant on there being coral reefs producing skeletons, and parrot fish there to convert [coral skeletons] into sand," Turner said.

Bleaching occurs when warm water causes coral to expel algae and turn white - a process which makes the coral more likely to perish.

Determined to make a difference, the science and law graduate from Orewa, north Auckland, endures sun-blistered skin and mouth ulcers from snorkelling for up to eight hours a day.

She is currently completing her Masters project at the University of Auckland, studying the effects of global warming on the Maldives' threatened coral reefs.

Turner's dedication to the project sees her battling sunburn, coral abrasions and her shark phobia to document the health of the tropical ecosystems.

And her persistence has paid off - Turner has scored herself the backing of National Geographic, giving her the chance to return to the Maldives with a small team in July.

Support from the magazine she spent her childhood admiring and adorning her room with is "magical" for Turner, and the opportunity to lead a team is a rarity.

"These types of opportunities don't really exist when you are starting out, unless you commit to a PhD," Turner said.

"The grant gives me the opportunity to develop experience leading a project in a subject that I love." The project will also give Turner access to a National Geographic initiated coral cohort, which links researchers together to support one another.

"I feel like we are all stronger when we work together. There is always someone with something to contribute and it's the best way to achieve real positive change in the world," she said.