Rock the Reef

Jeremy Jackson could be called the “Michael Jackson” of ocean science. He has been called a rock star by other scientists, and his face appears as one of the new Jackson Five in a parody of Mount Rushmore.

Jesse, Michael, Jeremy, Andrew and Shoeless Joe (from
Jesse, Michael, Jeremy, Andrew and Shoeless Joe (from

At age 71, he is the lead author of the new report, Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012. You can see him chatting about his Caribbean memories with his co-star (wife) Dr. Nancy Knowlton in the video “From despair to repair.”

Funny, this video uses their romance to infuse hope into a hopeless situation.

Some scientists have critized Jackson for being too public, too brash, and too invested in his demands for action. He is not content to be the cool-headed, detached scientist. He has seen the problem in the ocean, and the problem is us.

“It’s not about the fish; it’s not about the pollution; it’s not about the climate change. It’s about us and our greed and our need for growth and our inability to imagine a world that is different from the selfish world we live in today.” (Ted talk)

One theory he has promoted widely (and humorously) is called Shifting Baselines. It happens when new generations see the ocean today as “normal,” and they fail to recognize how clean and abundant it used to be. He has witnessed it firsthand on Caribbean reefs:

“Every ecosystem I studied is unrecognizably different from when I started. I have a son who is 30, and I used to take him snorkeling on the reefs in Jamaica to show him all the beautiful corals there. I have a daughter who is 17 — I can’t show her anything but heaps of seaweed.” (from

In just a few years, Jamaican reefs became unrecognizable. Jackson says in the report that all Caribbean reefs have about 20 years left before than all become wastelands. He is not an alarmist. He is a respected scientist and a witness to natural history.


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