Ruth Gates, a renowned marine biologist who made her life work to save the world's fragile coral reefs from the dead heat effects of water, died on October 25 in Kailua, Hawaii. He was 56 years old.
The Hawaiian Marine Biology Institute in Mana, where Gates was a director, announced his death at the Kastro Hospital. Robin Burton-Gates, her husband, said the cause was complications of diverticulitis surgery. Gates also had cancer that had spread to her brain, she said.
Gates wanted to be a marine biologist ever since he was a child, being crowded off by coral reefs when he saw them on the television exploits of the submarine explorer Jacques Cousteau.
"I have the utmost respect for coral," he told Netflix "Chasing Coral," which was released in 2017 and won an Emmy. "They are really complex animals."
A valuable natural resource, coral reefs are often called rainforests of the ocean because they provide an habitat for critical food sources for millions of people, in addition to serving as a major source of tourist dollars.
But over the past decades, at least a third of the world's reefs, which are particularly sensitive to temperature changes, have been the victims of global warming, ocean acidification, ecotourism, pollution and overfishing. Scientists say greenhouse gas trends suggest that they could be destroyed much more than in the next 30 years as corals serve as canaries in the coal mine for the possible collapse of the ocean ecosystem.
Gates was one of the leading scientists trying to protect the corals from such a fate. As a director of Hawaii's Marine Biology Institute, a member of the University of Hawaii in Manoa, he developed a "super coral" that could be bred to be more resistant to the heat and acidity affecting the marine environment.
"I always think of the planet as a puzzle and there are all these pieces that have to match together to create the picture," said this year in an episode of the HBO documentary "Vice." Losing pieces like the coral reefs the polar ice cap, he said, "will eventually erase us as a species."
In addition to cutting-edge research, Gates brought a passion for her work that prompted a longer-lasting personality and made her a sought-after public speaker and the subject of many videos. He has been president of the International Relief Studies Society. talked about her work at the United Nations and the Aspen Ideas Festival. and managed a generation of postgraduate students.
It was, many said, a Renaissance woman.
"He could do everything good," Burton-Gates said in a telephone interview. "He was good at computers, he was fantastic in the business, he could remodel the houses, he was a fantastic cook, he had a black belt of third grade in karate."
It was also, said Burton-Gates, "a great athlete at school." And, it turned out, she could sing. On a night karaoke in Honolulu in 2015, he surprised everyone and stopped the show by turning off "Diamonds Forever".
Mainly, Gates, who were British, put her communicative skills to the service of coral salvation. And she used the English Queen's command for great success.
"You are laughing about the fact that you could say the most uncomfortable thing, but if you had a British accent, people would believe you," said Dr. Margaret McFall-Ngai, director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center at Hawaiian Manoa University, in a telephone interview.
"It's a very rare day to have a scientist as charismatic as Ruth," said McFall-Ngai. "It was Carl Sagan of coral reefs."
Ruth Deborah Gates was born on 28 March 1962 in Akrotiri, Cyprus, where John Amos Gates' father was settled while working in the British Military Service. Her mother, Muriel (Peel) Gates, was a physiotherapist. With her parents traveling constantly, Ruth grew up mainly at an internship in Kent, England.
He received a degree in marine biology from Newcastle University in 1984 and a PhD in the same subject in 1990. He did much of the original study of coral in Jamaica, just as the Caribbean corals began to die. He conducted additional research at the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Hawaii.
He met Burton-Gates, an iconographer, in 2014 through a mutual friend. They married on September 28th. A brother, Tim, survives it too.
In 2013, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation offered $ 10,000 for the most promising proposal to alleviate the problems caused by an increasingly acidic ocean. Gates and Madeleine van Oppen of the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences have won the challenge with their plan to develop highly resistant coral strains, much as farmers grow stronger crops.
The Foundation then provided a $ 4 million grant, with the long-term goal of creating a stock of tough coral workers who could replace dead coral reefs around the world.
The project has its skeptics. An important question is whether the development of these new corals is staggered for global application. Another is whether a mechanism by which strains can be widely distributed can be created. The other is whether money can be found for these very costly businesses.
Beyond that, some people question whether this process will actually limit the diversity of coral, which could lead to unintended consequences.
Gates was generally unaware of the criticism.
"I hate to say it," she said in an interview with Fast Company magazine this year, "but climate change is making the most obscure experiment of genetic reduction ever made."
Her workshop remains dedicated to her work.
"Instead of tackling the problems faced by corals, Ruth focused on developing and testing real solutions," said Kira Hughes, research director at Gates Coral Lab. "He took steps – to do something now – which would ensure the survival of coral reefs in the future. "