As soon as he could walk, Tom Goreau ’70 was swimming in the warm waters off Jamaica, where he grew up. He recalls water so consistently clear and blue he could see all the way down to the corals and marine life blanketing the bottom. His dad would dive below, releasing streams of bubbles that Goreau would follow. This was the 1950s, before scuba gear was commercially available. So Goreau’s father—Thomas Fritz Goreau, considered the first diving marine scientist—built equipment from scratch that allowed him to dive as deep as a few hundred feet. “He probably held the world’s record for depth diving on compressed air at the time,” says his son. Goreau’s grandfather, Fritz Goro, was the inventor of macrophotography—featuring extreme close-ups of small objects—and the first to use it underwater. Together, Goreau’s grandfather and father took some of the earliest photographs of corals. His mother, Nora Goreau, also had a notable link to the sea: she was the first Panamanian marine biologist. 

Goreau—whose family’s story is told in the new documentary Coral Ghosts—has borne witness for seven decades to the steady global decline of coral reefs, which have degraded into fields of rubble and algae. “My expertise is knowing how the reefs used to be,” he says. In a word—magnificent. “And now they’re essentially gone, like Hiroshima looked the day after the atom bomb.” 

Goreau in a still from the film, Coral GhostsIAIN ROBINSON

In the 1980s, building on his undergraduate degree in planetary physics from MIT (and graduate degrees from Caltech and Harvard), Goreau pioneered the use of sea surface temperatures collected by satellites to predict at what point corals would bleach. But we’ve far surpassed that threshold. Climate change has cooked and bleached the corals. Ocean acidification has dissolved them. And local pollution has sealed their fate.

As president of the nonprofit Global Coral Reef Alliance (GCRA), Goreau helps local and indigenous people identify which stressors are killing their local reefs and how to reduce that negative impact. He targets his message to the oldest fishermen “because they’re the only ones who remember how it was,” he says.

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By: Ari Daniel, PhD ’08
Title: Protecting the world’s vanishing coral reefs
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 28 Apr 2021 03:12:16 +0000

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