The life aquatic - one researcher making a world of difference

10 Apr 2014

‘Incontrovertible evidence’ of serious risk to the world’s ecosystems was the foremost finding in a recently released report from the United Nations' key climate change body. The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released on 31 March.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the Global Change Institute at UQ, was coordinating lead author of the Oceans chapter which states that global warming and ocean acidification is driving species to the poles, unbalancing ecosystems and increasing risks to people everywhere – and the question governments and communities worldwide need to be asking is ‘what do we do now?’

From a young age, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg knew he wanted to be a scientist. A Whitsunday trip with his Danish grandfather could have been the catalyst for a lifelong-pursuit of knowledge, resulting in a body of research that has been lauded by the likes of Al Gore and Sir David Attenborough.

“On that trip to the Whitsundays, I saw my first butterfly fish. I can still see it whizzing around the coral, it was absolutely the most beautiful thing. I think that was where I had the first inklings of my love for the sea.

“I grew up in Sydney, and as a teenager I would head to the beach with a bunch of other 15-year-olds to go snorkelling with handmade nets, plastic bags, and looking extremely daggy. We would catch all sorts of marine creatures to take home as I had 16 fish tanks in my parents’ house. If you walked into any room there were aquaria everywhere.”

From Sydney’s seaside to the University of Sydney, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg graduated with Honours in science, majoring in marine biology. However it was a scholarship to complete his PhD at the University of California that led to his ground-breaking work on coral bleaching and subsequently climate change.

“Scholarships can provide life-changing opportunities. They allow students to open their eyes in ways otherwise unimaginable and really are an amazing gift.”

Global warming and ocean acidification is a real and immediate problem, and Professor Hoegh-Guldberg says if we don’t start taking steps to act now, the reef could be irreversibly damaged by climate change in a few short decades.

“This latest report from the IPCC makes no bones about stating the consensus that human-driven climate change is occurring and it is important. Hundreds of changes have already been observed that are consistent with climate change, temperature rises and associated issues such as ocean acidification.

“At the Global Change Institute we’re already working to address these issues. What is exciting about the challenge is that many solutions already exist. All we need to do now is to work together to implement them – which will ultimately lead to a better future for all of us.”

Read more about the Global Change Institute and find out how you can contribute to climate change research.

More on Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is Director of the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland. Hoegh-Guldberg has held academic positions at UCLA, Stanford University, The University of Sydney and The University of Queensland and is currently an ARC Laureate Fellow; member of the Australian Climate Group; the Royal Society (London) Marine Advisory Network; and the Board of Editing Reviewers at Science Magazine. He also heads a large research laboratory (over 20 researchers and students) that focuses on how global warming and ocean acidification are affecting and will affect coral reefs now and into the future.

He completed his BSc Honours at The University of Sydney and PhD at UCLA in 1989, and has spent the past 25 years working on climate change issues within marine ecosystems. He was recognised in 1999 with the Eureka Prize for 'ground-breaking research into the physiological basis of coral bleaching'. His published works include over 200 refereed publications and book chapters. Three of his publications are now the first, fourth and sixth most cited works over the past ten years in the area of climate change. His science paper in December 2007 is now ISI’s hottest paper (most cited over the past two years) in both the area of climate change and ocean acidification (cited 408 times in <four years). In 2008, he became a Queensland Smart State Premier’s Fellow.

Hoegh-Guldberg is also a regular contributor to the media, with his work featuring in the ABC (Catalyst), BBC (with Sir David Attenborough) and NBC (with Tom Brokaw), reaching over 15 million people in Australia, the UK and the USA. He is also Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Coordinator for the Australasian Centre for Excellence and Chair of the Bleaching Working Group within the World Bank-Global Environment Facility Coral Reef Targeted Research project. Hoegh-Guldberg interacts with a wide array of national and international scientific networks that focus on the challenges that climate change poses to the health of the world’s oceans.

In addition to his work as a university academic, Hoegh-Guldberg has been advisor to numerous organisations including the Royal Society (London), Greenpeace, World Wide Fund for Nature, Rio Tinto Aluminium, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the World Bank, UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, NOAA and the Australian Government on the issue of coral reefs and climate change.