Our first curator for CORAL WEEK at Real Scientists is the wonderful Dr Jessica Carilli (@jess_carilli), Assistant Professor at the School of the Environment, University of Massachusetts, Boston. Jessica was educated at the University of California at San Diego, majoring in environmental systems and east sciences. She then did her PhD at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. For two days only this week, Jessica will be talking about coral biology and bleaching; and what
factors affect coral ecosystems. Here’s Assistant Professor Jessica Carilli, talking about her life, inspirations and motivations.
I have basically always wanted to be an environmental scientist for as long as I can remember. I felt like this was the best way for me to make a difference in the world while doing a job that I love.
I actually stumbled into coral work after coffee with another graduate student. My background is in earth science and geochemistry, and I saw that I could help answer some ecological questions about the Mesoamerican reef using coral skeletons as environmental archives. As I got involved with corals, I realized they are endlessly fascinating because they are so complex, and affected so strongly by human impacts. I’ve found it hard to move away because I’m so interested in learning more about corals.
I’m driven to assess how human activities have caused physical environmental changes on coral reefs and how these changes have affected corals. My main tools to answer these questions have been coral skeletal core samples. Corals live hundreds of years. Their skeletons have rings like trees and are made from seawater: their skeletal chemistry reflects changes in their environment while the rate of skeletal growth seems to reflect coral health. The long records of changing environmental conditions and coral health that we can reconstruct let us look back in time to see how things have changed in response to human activity.
Coral reefs are extremely charismatic habitats, but they also supply important ecosystem services to people around the world. Corals are very sensitive to climate change and other human-caused environmental changes, and like the rainforests are being destroyed at a fast pace. It’s critical that we change our environmental practices if we want coral reefs as we know them to have any chance of survival.
I have two small kids who keep me on my toes and don’t let me get enough sleep at the moment.
I love surfing and aerial circus arts, though both have suffered since the arrival of my first child. One day I hope to have more time for these!
Please welcome Jessica to Real Scientists!