Prof. Ruth Gates, one of the prominent coral scientists in the world, the director of Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, and the president of the International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS), passed away on October 25 after a battle with cancer (In Memory of Ruth Gates – The Atlantic).
Her recent works include breeding heat tolerant corals or “super corals”, for the effort to save the coral reefs from severe bleaching, and holding the public forums to make the communities aware the benefit of saving the reefs and what kind of actions the normal citizens can take. She was one of the PhotosynQ/CoralspeQ collaborators. You could find her detailed scientific works, news articles and contributions elsewhere. Here, I would like to write about brief but memorable interactions with her.
It started in summer of 2015. Prof. Peter Ralph at University of Technology, Sydney, visited us in Michigan, telling us about the upcoming monstrous El Nino… officially called Godzilla El Nino. Peter, our long time collaborator and early adopter of PhotosynQ, proposed us if we could make a field deployable instrument like MultispeQ (it was Beta type back then) to monitor corals. It was a challenge, because it has to work under water. Thus, CoralspeQ was born. Peter strongly suggested Ruth Gates as a collaborator, because not only she was a respected coral expert, but also she constantly touted the importance of collaboration and data sharing. We had also contacted several other scientists who are marine biologists and spectroscopists, and received a positive response.
When we finally built a prototype in November when the damages from El Nino had already started, we needed a field test instead of the lab test. It was Ruth who emailed me directly and said, “What can I do for you?” I flew to her Institute in Coconut Island with 2 instruments in December, 2015 (CoralspeQ Prototype 1.5 Update – Ready to go for the field test!), and took measurements with captive corals with a help from Jennifer Davidson, and in the reef with a help from Elizabeth Lenz. This field test was crucial to see what we could tell about the coral conditions in the real environment.
In the following summer, at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu, I finally had an opportunity to talk to her in person (CoralspeQ Debut at International Coral Reef Symposium). Being the president of the ISRS and one of the Symposium organizers, she had people lined up to have a brief private conversation. I was fortunate to have an interaction, and was totally flattered by her saying “Thank you for doing this!” She meant that making inexpensive instrument and sharing the data through the cloud-connected scientific platform would benefit everybody. Her closing plenary talk was about the need of scientists and communities working together and coming up with the solutions to save the reef ecosystem. I think she had been inspiring many people with her optimistic open-minded attitude. Now she has passed a baton to the next generation. CoralspeQ is a difficult long-term project, but equipped with Ruth’s optimism, we will get there.