Opportunity binge

The ‘Godfather of Coral’ CHARLIE VERNON – This week on AUSTRALIAN STORY

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Dubbed the ‘godfather of coral’, 77-year-old scientist Charlie Veron has spent much of his career underwater charting the world’s coral reef wonderlands.

Now, as the Great Barrier Reef faces its biggest challenge, he reveals an ambitious rescue plan for the future. He is collecting the 400 species of coral on the Great Barrier Reef to preserve in a “coral ark” or biobank.

“If we can keep all these corals alive in aquaria then they can be used when the technology is right to repopulate reefs,” Charlie says.

Marine biologist Dr Dean Miller says there’s no better person to be tackling this challenge.

“He knows reefs better than anyone…Charlie is as close as you can get to a rock star within the coral reef world.”

Charlie’s path to world renowned scientist was not an easy one. He struggled at school and his parents despaired at what they would do with their nature-obsessed son who once kept a blue-ringed octopus as a pet.

“And then there was this kind of miraculous opportunity,” says friend Professor Iain McCalman.  “He was given these tests, like intelligence tests and he turns out to be brilliant and is offered a Commonwealth Scholarship to any university in the country.”

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Charlie went on to become the Great Barrier Reef’s first full-time researcher and spent decades doing ground-breaking work on corals.

Growing awareness of climate change and its impact on coral reefs led Charlie to become an outspoken advocate, sometimes criticised for his pessimistic predictions.

“Some in the research community probably felt that he had overstated the potential for destruction on the Great Barrier Reef,” says Professor Peter Harrison.  “Events have subsequently proven that we are facing a crisis for corals on the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs around the planet.”

Charlie’s energy is now focused on transferring the contents of his brain onto a coral identification website and building the “coral ark”.

“I’ve been trying to retire and be redundant for at least the last 20 years, it doesn’t look like getting any closer. As far as the Great Barrier Reef’s concerned I still have a big, big job to do and I’m going to do it as best I can for as long as I can.”

Introduced by Craig Reucassel

AUSTRALIAN STORY – The Godfather of Coral airs Monday 4 October at 8pm on ABC TV and ABC iview. 

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