How did you first discover your love for the ocean?
Every summer while I was growing up in New England, my grandfather rented a cottage in Cape Cod where we would frolic on the beach for days. I marveled at the armor of the ancient horseshoe crabs and the power of the waves breaking on the beach. When I turned 12, my uncle bought a cottage on the shores of Mattapoisett Harbor and I quickly inherited his love of sailing. Later on, when I received a nomination to the Naval Academy, the choice of a major seemed very clear to me—Oceanography of course.
What initially drew you to the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation?
The Living Oceans Foundation was such a perfect fit for my skills and experiences acquired throughout my naval career—operational oceanography, logistics, business, management and science—I couldn’t believe my good fortune and timing when I was invited to apply for the Executive Director position. Some of my friends noted how "lucky" I was to find such a great job. I agree I was lucky, but I’ll also quote the Roman philosopher Seneca, "luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."
Can you tell us a bit about the motivation behind the Global Reef Expedition program?
The coral reef crisis was our motivation for implementing the Global Reef Expedition program. Over the past 50 years, the health of coral reefs worldwide has rapidly declined. The speed, scope and intensity of the coral reef crisis has alarmed all of the world’s coral reef ecologists. Modern corals have been in existence on the order of 250 million years, and we’re observing this ecological crash occur in the absolute blink of an eye. One major problem is that we know very little about the physiology of stony corals seeing that the science is very young. We also are missing great swaths of baseline data on global coral reefs. These reasons motivated us to do a rapid assessment and mapping of the major coral reefs of the world through the Global Reef Expedition program.
So much of our ocean remains unexplored. What, if anything, has been a surprise to learn thus far in the expedition?
The biggest surprise to me has been the unpredictability of nature. Just when you think you’ve figured out the factors that support a healthy coral reef, reality lets you down. For example, we dived near a major petroleum distribution facility in the Red Sea believing that the reefs would be totally dead and found that the reef was magnificent. Another surprise is the spatial variability of reef health. You can dive on a beautiful reef, then travel two miles to another reef that looks like a crime scene. Nature is incredibly resilient. It’s amazing how fast nature can recover when you remove chronic stressors. Coral reefs have remarkable resilience which gives me great optimism. After all, modern corals have survived two mass extinction events—most scientists agree that we’re living through another mass extinction event now. I’d like both humans and corals to get through this ecological bottleneck.
The issues facing our ocean can be pretty overwhelming. What can people do to help support the health of coral reefs?
Basic consumer choices are a powerful tool. Be an educated consumer and select seafood choices based on their sustainability. Over-fishing is a scourge on ocean health. Remember that all things flow downhill—trash, oil, excess fertilizer, etc. Reduce, reus, and recycle are good behaviors. Write to your elected representatives. It only takes one well-written letter to convince your congressman to co-sponsor a bill on ocean conservation. You have a lot of power with the pen. Donate to a great ocean conservation organization to give them more power to protect our oceans. There’s much each of us can do to save our oceans.
If you could share one message with the world about the state of the ocean, what would it be?
The ocean is the heart and lungs of planet Earth. Human existence is directly reliant on sustaining the health of our seas. Every second breath we take comes from oxygen produced by healthy micro-organisms in the oceans. If the oceans die, we’ll not be long for the world. There is still some time left to save the heart and lungs of our planet.
Reserve your seats for Captain Renaud's lecture here!