The Good Doctor Posted by Reef Magazine - 5 February 2020 Dr Emma Camp is quite brilliant. She is an Associate Laureate of Rolex’s Awards for Enterprise, a Discovery Early Career Researcher recipient, a University of Technology Sydney Research Fellow and a United Nations Young Leader for Sustainable Development Goals. She is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about coral culture and is fighting to help save it. Here, she talks to Alison Veness. We meet on Pebble Beach at qualia under the flowering flame tree close to the Coral Sea, as it seems only right, such is Dr Emma Camp’s affinity and dedication to sea life. She is a guest of Rolex during Hamilton Island Race Week and is currently on a research fellowship of the Australian Research Council at the University of Technology Sydney. What that entails, she says, is “studying mechanisms of coral resilience, and trying to understand how some corals survive when others are rapidly dying from environmental change – I want to know what are the corals genetic and physiological adjustments that will support their survival through this period of rapid and extreme environmental change.” Sampling a freshly discovered coral colony for further analysis at the UTS lab. Photo by ROLEX/FRANCK GAZZOLA. Camp has discovered that corals around mangrove lagoons have a greater ability to live in stressful conditions. This has led her to transplant coral near Low Isles from the mangroves to the reef and the reef to the mangroves. “We’ve completed the first pilot study and we’ll have the results towards the end of this year,” she says. “What we’ve seen is that the mangrove corals, when we moved them to the adjacent reefs, have survived. We didn’t know whether that was just the environment that makes them tough or if it’s actually the genetics and physiology that makes them like that. So that’s one thing we are learning. “We also have coral nurseries out on Opal Reef [further north on the Great Barrier Reef], where we are working with different tour operators basically using corals that naturally survive through a bleaching event to try to repopulate at certain sites where some of the devastation has happened. We are also repopulating sites that have good coral cover to try to ensure these sites have the best resilience to future stress. That is really a stewardship program working with the operators to empower them to take stewardship over their site.” Camp explains that coral gardening means “basically clipping coral fragments” as if you were pruning in your garden and she says they grow quite quickly. “Obviously, you can replant them out into the reef. In four months we have planted out about 7,000 fragments around Opal Reef and we’re expanding that, too. On the scale of the Great Barrier Reef that’s small, but these are all tools we all need to be exploring in this [scientific] toolbox because, as a collective, the different activities that are going on can hopefully have an impact and improve things.” Monitoring corals growing on the racks of the nursery, Opal Reef. Photo by ROLEX/FRANCK GAZZOLA. It’s this “super survivor” coral work that brought Camp to the attention of Rolex. The Rolex Awards for Enterprise were set up in 1976 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster, the world’s first waterproof watch and a milestone in watchmaking. The awards were designed to support individuals of all nationalities and from all walks of life who are working to improve life on our planet in many areas. Since their foundation, the awards have supported 150 Laureates whose endeavours have made a significant contribution worldwide to improving life and protecting the planet. These awards, which mirror the same spirit of enterprise and excellence that have driven the company since the beginning, significantly embody the company’s determination to contribute to the wider world – the ethos that now inspires its Perpetual Planet campaign, which is designed to help find solutions to environmental challenges. The Rolex awards, along with partnerships with the National Geographic Society and Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue initiative, are key pillars of the campaign. To have the recognition from Rolex, Camp says, “is amazing” and has led to other opportunities, both in regards to exposure for the projects and making connections within the community and gaining vital support. “You’re sort of part of the family now, which opens up possibilities and opportunities, which is probably the most exciting thing. Studying samples onsite at the Reef. Photo by ROLEX/FRANCK GAZZOLA. Camp and other finalists of the 2019 Awards had the opportunity to present their projects at the National Geographic Explorers Festival in Washington D.C. She explains that she has made friends for life through the Rolex experience. Everyone who was nominated has incredible projects. “While I don’t have favourites as everyone was amazing, I think Grégoire Courtine was outstanding. That he has been able to stimulate walking again in individuals who have had paralysis is incredible.” Camp was “definitely a nerd at school”, she says. She grew up in Essex, in the UK and her love of the ocean began at a young age during the holidays that her parents saved up for. “I vividly remember my dad taking me snorkelling, age seven or eight, in the Bahamas. I remember seeing a coral reef and realising that wow, there’s life! I remember putting on a mask and putting my head under water and seeing fish and so much colour. I saw all this life and loved it and I knew I wanted to dive. A few years later I was in Spain and I made friends with a girl my age and her parents happened to run the dive shop there. After that I went back year after year and lived with them for the summer and I learnt how to dive and helped them around the shop. In return, I got to do my diving tickets and things.” A few years later, Camp did a coral reef ecology course for a few weeks in the Caribbean. “I saw scientists in action doing reef surveys and these had had some damage and were trying to recover, and I was like, ‘Now I can envision the sort of job I could be doing.’" Emma and John Edmondson diving to outplant corak, Opal Reef. Photo by ROLEX/FRANCK GAZZOLA. After completing a Master’s in Environmental Management and Business at Sheffield University in the north of England, “somebody I’d met during this time worked for NOAA in the US, the government’s national oceanography and atmospheric organisation, and they sent me an email saying there’s an internship at a research station, three months, not great pay, but you should go. And that was the beginning. I applied for the position and they offered it to me on the phone. I didn’t know where the Cayman Islands were, but I agreed to go for three months and I got off the phone and I was like, ‘Yep, that’s it!’” She was there within a week and went on to get her PhD – “and now here we are”, she says with a smile. “The last time I was here, one thing I was excited about around Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays in general is that there are really big porites, really big coral species, ones around here that are hundreds of years old.” Camp was here pre-bleaching, (there have been two major bleachings on the Great Barrier Reef, in 2016 and 2017) and says “it was a few years ago, but seeing a coral that size made me appreciate how old they were. I still feel that emotion every time I’m on the Great Barrier Reef. Just the sheer size of it and that it’s a living structure that can be viewed from space, that’s home to more than 7,000 marine species and that the physical structure was made by a living thing and is an animal that lives with a micro-algae inside its tissue with all of these other bacteria... To me, it’s so complex but simple and also intricate. It’s just fascinating.” Collecting a sample from a healthy coral colony for analysis. Photo by ROLEX/FRANCK GAZZOLA. She is definitely an ocean optimist. “Yes, we are at a critical point and what we do in the next five to ten years will determine the next hundreds of years, I really do believe that, but I equally think that all of us, if we can just each make a small change as a collective it will make a massive difference. Reducing plastic is key, not just the plastic that’s ending up in the ocean but also the supply chain and the carbon emissions that are produced from that. Anything that can reduce your carbon footprint such as walking, taking the bike, that’s all going to have a huge impact on the environment and the reef. We’re at a point where we have to put pressure on our local, regional, and national governments to stick to international agreements that they have committed to, because as much as all of the scientists are trying to do their part to aid the reef, all of the ecosystems on earth are currently under threat from climate change and the biggest thing we can do is obviously reduce the emissions. “I encourage people to just learn more about what the commitments are that Australia has made, or the UK has made, and not to see it as someone else’s problem, because it’s going to affect all of us and so make your voice heard when you vote.” Camp’s biggest hope is that the next generation can see and experience a reef that she has been privileged enough to witness, “but not just have a reef but have one that provides the biological and ecological and social services that we need the reefs to have”. Emma Camp at work at the lab. Photo by ROLEX/FRANCK GAZZOLA Two things give her hope: “Young people are buying into the need to protect the environment and that’s hopeful, and also we have the knowledge now. Before, we didn’t always have the knowledge. Now we know what our actions are doing and understand the problems and have to come up with solutions. Scientists need to work with engineers, with policy, with communicators, with art – all these different entities together, to come up with different solutions to the problems that we know now exist. And at least we know, because that’s the first step in solving things. That’s what gives me hope.” For more information on the Coral Nurture Program and how it links reef research with industry on the Great Barrier Reef, visit coralnurtureprogram.org and Rolex.org Emma on a dive day. Photo by ROLEX/FRANCK GAZZOLA. 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