Featured News Prestigious award for reef sentinel

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Wed, 5 Feb 2020

Prestigious award for reef sentinel

Prof. Terry Hughes
Professor Terry Hughes

Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, has been honoured with the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and Conservation Biology.

Prof. Hughes was recognised for his efforts to describe and draw attention to the global loss of fragile coral reef ecosystems as a result of widespread warming, acidification, pollution and disease.

He shares the award with two other marine biologists who have made seminal contributions to our understanding of the world’s oceans, whilst applying this knowledge to protect and conserve marine biodiversity and oceanic ecosystem services in a rapidly changing world.

Prof. Hughes’ work has led the implementation of measures to conserve and restore the incomparable resources of coral reefs.

“Coral reefs are not just beautiful places where wealthy people can enjoy a holiday,” said Prof. Hughes.

“We should not forget that 400 million people depend on them for their livelihoods and food security.”

Prof. Hughes’ research has focused on the coral bleaching caused by climate change. Bleaching occurs when reefs are exposed to stressors such as warming ocean waters and, if it is severe and prolonged enough, many of the corals will die.

His studies show that mass coral bleaching was unknown until the 1980s but since then, repeated bleaching episodes have become something of a norm as global temperatures continue to rise.

The Great Barrier Reef has suffered four bleaching events since 1998, two in the consecutive years of 2016 and 2017, causing damage on an unmatched scale.

“Although overfishing and pollution also cause deterioration, the greatest threat facing reefs today is without doubt climate change,” said Prof. Hughes. “And this is not a risk that might affect them in future, but something that is harming them right now.”

Prof. Hughes works alongside economists, political scientists and other researchers in the social sciences to develop strategies to combat the reef deterioration being driven by climate change.

“It is still not too late. The window of opportunity to save reefs remains open, but it is closing rapidly, so we have to act now to reduce pollutant emissions and stop wasting time.”


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The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, established in 2008, recognise and reward contributions of singular impact in diverse fields of science, technology, social sciences and the humanities that have demonstrably expanded the frontiers of the known world, opening up new paradigms and knowledge fields.