Rolex finalist on reef rescue mission

Dr Emma Camp uses a custom-made incubation chamber to assess coral physiology.

Dr Emma Camp uses a custom-made incubation chamber to assess coral physiology.

Marine biologist Dr Emma Camp has been hooked on the underwater realm since early childhood, when she went snorkelling during a family holiday in the Caribbean.

Fast-forward 22 years and the young scientist, now an expert on coral reefs, is in the running for a worldwide Rolex Award for Enterprise that could turbocharge her important research.

Emma Camp was the first to recognise that some corals survive and even thrive in conditions that should kill them. Conventional wisdom dictates the hot, acidic, low-oxygen environments around mangroves are no place for corals. Yet Camp’s research has found the opposite.

Emma Camp fell in love with the underwater world when she went snorkelling in the Caribbean at the age of seven.

Emma Camp fell in love with the underwater world when she went snorkelling in the Caribbean at the age of seven.

This has led her to develop a bold theory around understanding the resilience of these “tough corals”, and how such corals could help to save iconic species under threat in places such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Camp is the only Australian among 10 finalists vying to become a 2019 Rolex Laureate. The winners will be announced on Friday June 14 and each laureate will receive 200,000 Swiss francs ($A282,000) towards their research.

For the first time since Rolex created the award in 1976, a people’s choice vote will help the international jury of experts select the winners. It’s perhaps fitting that an award launched to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the world’s first waterproof watch, the Rolex Oyster, could support Camp to spend more time in the ocean.

Dr Emma Camp tests the physicochemical conditions of the seawater in a mangrove lagoon.

Dr Emma Camp tests the physicochemical conditions of the seawater in a mangrove lagoon.

“It would be an amazing honour to receive a Rolex award and this level of funding means my project would be accelerated by a matter of years at a moment in history when our reef systems are running out of time,” Camp says.

Camp plans to study the corals in new resilience hotspots on the northern Great Barrier Reef – the Low Isles and Howick Island. For the first time, she will use key traits involved in the corals’ resilience to try to enhance reef intervention management, for example by transplanting these resilient corals to areas devastated by mass coral death.

She hopes to recruit citizen scientists to help with reef monitoring and train local stakeholders in innovative reef restoration techniques. The project will also involve live-links to schools globally to inspire inspiring the next generation of reef and environmental custodians, explores and scientists.

Marine biologist Dr Emma Camp is in the running for a Rolex Award for Enterprise to further her corals research.

Marine biologist Dr Emma Camp is in the running for a Rolex Award for Enterprise to further her corals research.

“I hope with the support of Rolex to be able to help the Great Barrier Reef, and reefs globally, persist through rapid climate change,” Camp says.

“While we undoubtedly need immediate efforts to reduce carbon emissions, reefs can’t wait. If I’m successful with a Rolex award, the funding will help me to ensure a future for coral reefs so future generations can experience their unique beauty and ecosystems services.”

Click here to read about Emma Camp’s research and lodge your vote. Voting closes on June 12; the five laureates will be announced on June 14.

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