Hannah Evans has died and gone to “nerd heaven,” which is what she calls working behind the scenes at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.

She’s the Aquarium’s senior biologist responsible for the care of the tropical saltwater animals, and when she lists off the things that interest her most about tropical corals – chemistry, physics, biology – it actually does sound really nerdy. But inside every nerd is a whole lot of passion, which is just what is needed when engaging in the delicate work of coral propagation (breeding).

It’s easy for the smaller, less active animals (yes, corals are animals) at the Aquarium to get overlooked when there are charismatic marine mammals nearby. But Hannah says the importance of coral shouldn’t be underestimated.

“Coral reefs worldwide have an estimated value of 375 billion dollars. They protect coastal communities and provide opportunities for ecotourism. They take up less than one per cent of the ocean but 25 per cent of all marine species depend on them. Loss to the ocean environment would be huge without them.”

Hannah has taken her interest in corals to Guam where she spent part of the last two summers with the conservation group SECORE. The timing is significant because some corals spawn only once a year. Hannah marvels about corals’ ability to spawn like clockwork, “It’s insane because they don’t have a brain. It’s amazing how in tune they are with their environment.”

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Hannah affixes one-year-old corals onto the reef in Guam. They are tagged for long-term monitoring. Photo credit: Paul Selvaggio, Pittsburg Zoo. 

Hannah says despite knowing how important coral reefs are, yet how under threat they are, “It’s kind of scary that people don’t talk about them as much as we should.”

Well, she’s started the dialogue, and I’m up for another trip back to nerd heaven, so we’ll check in on her again as she continues working on her coral research projects.

In the meantime, see the live tropical corals, carefully arranged and taken care of by Hannah, in the Tropic Zone at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.

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