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Ruth Gates, Scientific Champion of Coral Reefs, Dies at 56 :: WRAL.com

By Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times Kill on October 25th in Ruth Gates, a famous marine biologist who made…

Kill on October 25th in Ruth Gates, a famous marine biologist who made it his life’s work to save the world’s delicate coral reefs from the killing effects of warming the water temperatures. Kailua, Hawaii. She was 56 years old.

Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology in Manoa, where Gates was a director, announced her death at Castle Hospital. Robin Burton-Gates, her wife, said the cause was complications of diverticulitis surgery. Gates also had cancer that had spread to his brain.

Gates wanted to be a marine biologist because she was a child who had been enchanted by coral reefs when she watched television exploration by Jacques Cousteau, investigator

“I have the greatest respect for corals,” she said in the Netflix documentary “Chasing Coral”, released in 201

7 and won an Emmy. “They are very sophisticated animals.”

An expensive natural resource, coral reefs are often called rainforests for the ocean, as they provide a caring habitat for critical food sources for millions of people, except that they work as one

But in the last decades, at least one third of the world’s reefs, which are very sensitive to temperature changes, dead, victims of an increase in global warming, marine acidism, ecotourism, pollution and commercial overfishing. Researchers say that heating trends indicate that much more can be destroyed over the next 30 years, with coral as a canyon in the coal mine to possibly break the ocean’s ecosystem.

Gates was one of the leading scientists who tried to protect corals from such fate. As head of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, part of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, she developed a “super coral” that could be bred to be more resistant to the heat and acidity that attacks the marine environment.

“I always think of the planet as a puzzle and there are all those pieces that must fit together to create the image,” she said this year in an episode of the HBO documentary “Vice”. Losing pieces like coral reefs or the Polar ice, she said, “will finally wipe us out as a species”.

In addition to doing advanced research, Gates took a passion for his work that animated a larger than life personality and made her a sought after audience speaker and the subject of many videos. She was president of the International Society for Reef Studies; She talked about her work at the UN and at the Aspen Ideas Festival; and she mentored a generation of doctoral students.

She was many, a renaissance woman.

“She could do well,” Burton-Gates said in a telephone interview. “She was good at computers, great at business, she could remodel home, she was a great cook, she had a third grade black belt in karate.”

She was also, said Burton-Gates “a good athlete in school.” And it turned out she could sing. At a karaoke night in Honolulu 2015, she surprised everyone and ended the show by wearing “Diamonds Are Forever.”

Most of the time, Gates, who was British, provided his communication skills to save corals. And she used her command of Queen English to great effect.

“She used to laugh at the fact that you could say the most inane, but if you had a British accent, people should believe you,” Dr. Margaret McFall -Ngai, director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in a telephone conversation.

“It’s a very rare day to have a scientist as charismatic as Ruth,” said McFall-Ngai. “She was the Carl Sagan of Coral Reef.”

Ruth Deborah Gates was born March 28, 1962 in Akrotiri, Cyprus, where her father John Amos Gates was stationed while working in British military intelligence. Her mother, Muriel (Peel) Gates, was a physiotherapist. With her parents constantly traveling, Ruth grew up primarily in a school in Kent, England.

She graduated in marine biology from Newcastle University in 1984 and studied there in the same subject in 1990. She did much of her first studies of coral in Jamaica, just as Caribbean corals began to die. She conducted further research at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Hawaii.

She met Burton-Gates, an illustrator, 2014 by a common friend. They marry September 28th. A brother, Tim, surpasses her too.

In 2013, Paul G. Allen’s Family Fund offered $ 10,000 for the most promising proposal to mitigate problems caused by an increasingly sour sea. Gates and Madeleine van Oppen, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, won the challenge of developing highly sensitive coral strains, much how farmers grow stronger crops.

The Foundation then granted them a five-year, $ 4 million grant, with the long-term goal of creating a layer of hard coral tribes that could replace dying coral reefs around the world.

The work has its skeptics. An important issue is whether the development of these new coral strains is scalable for global application. Another is whether a mechanism can be created through which the strains can be distributed to a large extent. Another is whether the money can be considered to pay for these very expensive companies.

In addition to this, some people question whether this process will actually limit the diversity of coral, which can lead to unintended consequences.

Gates was generally

“I hate to say that,” she said in an interview with the Fast Company this year, “but climate change makes the most obscene genetic reduction experiment ever done.”

Her laboratory is still dedicated to performing her work.

“Instead of facing the problems facing the corals, Ruth focused on developing and testing the real solutions,” said Kira Hughes, project manager at Gates Coral Lab, via email. “She acted – to do something now – it would ensure that coral reefs survive in the future. “

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