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Retired NOAA oceanographer, coral reef expert a finalist for prestigious public service award

May 11, 2021

Mark Eakin, a renowned, recently retired NOAA oceanographer and former head of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch (CRW), is a 2021 Career Achievement Finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, also known as the SAMMIES.


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During his 28-year career as a federal scientist at NOAA, Eakin led a team of CRW experts who developed a powerful, early-warning system that uses high-resolution satellite-derived temperature maps and climate models to alert for potentially harmful bleaching events that threaten coral reefs around the world.

As Earth’s oceans warm, the risk of mass bleaching of tropical, shallow-water corals increases. One of many detrimental impacts of climate change, mass coral bleaching, if severe or prolonged, can lead to the demise of entire reef ecosystems.

Eakin and his CRW team—part of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service—created the warning system, which predicts—months in advance—when sea temperatures will warm enough to cause bleaching. This advanced warning gives resource managers and decision makers time to implement response plans that lessen the harm to corals and the whole marine ecosystem.

Eakin has written on various topics in coral reef ecology, especially the impact of climate change and other disturbance on coral reefs. This includes El Niño impacts on eastern Pacific coral reefs in coral reef ecology and carbonate budgets, thermal stress and coral bleaching, ocean acidification, oil spills, coral paleoclimatology and the behavior of marine organisms. He formerly co-chaired the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force's Climate Change Working Group and helped develop the International and U.S. Coral Reef Initiatives and the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.

Eakin, who has testified before Congress on the impacts of climate change on coral reefs, was the chief science advisor for “Chasing Coral,” a documentary that showed for the first time on film, coral bleaching off the coasts of Hawaii, Australia and the Caribbean islands. In 2017, it won the Best U.S. Documentary Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and an Emmy for Best Nature Documentary in 2018.