Marine mysteries

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The ocean’s a harsh mistress. I know this because I spent 20 years as a marine biologist. Given current ocean issues in Malibu, it’s important everyone appreciates how complex ocean science is.

This spring I’m going back to Australia where I spent the 1980s studying the crown-of-thorns starfish problem on their Great Barrier Reef. We now have over 50 years of research on the coral-eating starfish that devour entire reefs when they undergo population explosions, including my work on its larvae. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent over the years. And yet we’re still pretty much at square one. We don’t know how or why it happens.

The ocean is complex. Which means Malibu residents should be cautious of anyone who tells simple stories of such things as how lagoon inlets work or how installing artificial reefs is risk free. Maybe. But be aware; the processes are not simple. You can bring in the best minds, as has been the case with those starfish, and they probably won’t be able to make simple predictions.

Which leads to the second thing, that you respect the difficulty of ocean science. Badgering scientists for their not being able to give you 100% consistent predictions will only result in good scientists wanting to stay away. Despite all our ability to make amazing movies with great special effects, in the real world our understanding of the oceans remains shockingly crude.

Randy Olson