In 2011, associate professor Adriana Vergés flipped backwards o a boat to dive Tasmania’s giant kelp forest, and was interrupted by a tap on her head. “At first I thought it was one of my colleagues asking for something, then I saw it was a beautiful fur seal wanting to play and swimming loops around me,” says Vergés, 42, who has worked as a marine ecologist for more than 15 years and is currently researching and restoring Australia’s underwater forests at UNSW and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science.
Vergés’ work has seen her dive with dugongs on the Ningaloo Reef o Western Australia, follow the Kuroshio current in Japan, and shiver in 9°C water o the west coast of Ireland, where she studied marine science. Her current research is centred on the ecological impacts of a changing climate and the tropicalisation of temperate communities such as algal forests and seagrass meadows. “My research has discovered that when tropical fish come into kelp forests [because of warming waters], they can actually over-graze them and completely change the ecosystem,” explains Vergés, who believes we have the scientific means to save our seas.
Vergés says we can start with three simple steps: eat more sustainably (for example, choose oysters over tuna), vote for the environment and invest in our future by donating to Operation Crayweed. All funds go to vital underwater forest restoration work, and so far the campaign has raised enough money to restore nine sites in Sydney. Change is possible.
“If we listen to the science, curb our dependence on fossil fuels and lower our carbon emissions, it will lead to a better world – not just a less-warm world, but a better world all-round,” she says.
This article originally appeared in the November issue of marie claire.