University of Victoria —
Marine ecologist and conservation biologist Julia Baum spent the early part of her career studying the impacts of commercial fishing on oceanic sharks and assessing the health of global fisheries. But a pivotal exploration near the Earth’s equator changed her research focus forever.
The expeditions were at the Pacific Ocean coral atoll of Kiritimati or Christmas Island during and in the aftermath of the 2015-2016 El Niño. Heat stress from that El Niño event triggered the third-ever global coral bleaching event, causing mass coral bleaching and mortality on reefs around the world. Christmas Island, where Baum has worked for more than a decade, was the event’s epicentre.
What Baum saw struck her to the core. “It was a wake-up call. Up until then, I believed that overfishing was the greatest threat to the world’s oceans,” she says.