Carl Safina is a MacArthur fellow, Pew fellow, and Guggenheim fellow, an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University, and president of Blue Ocean Institute. 

His books include among others Song for the Blue Ocean,The View From Lazy Point, and his book about the 2010 Gulf blowout, A Sea in Flames. He is host of "Saving the Ocean," on PBS television. Safina was named an Utne Reader Visionary in 2011. Keep up with him and his work at

I can’t remember who dragged me to see the movie Jurassic Park, but one resonant line in that movie was worth the price of admission, this unforgettable sentence: “Life finds a way.” It popped out at me because it so economically summed up a truth behind all of nature’s stunning diversity and the continuity of the living adventure of Life on Earth.

Australian ecologist Roger Bradbury has recently asserted that coral reefs are doomed, living-dead, “zombie ecosystems” that will inevitably - and soon - utterly collapse under the multiple fatal blows of overfishing, pollution and the ocean acidification and warming resulting from the global buildup of carbon dioxide (see his New York Times op-ed, “A World Without Coral Reefs").

Bradbury says we should give up. Any hope for reefs, he says, is a delusion (Andy Revkin collected a few responses from scientists at his New York Times Dot Earth blog).

guatemalan algeaCan that really be so? Certainly things die, lineages go extinct - and coral reefs are in a world of hurt. All true.

Also true is the existence of heat-tolerant corals, corals that are regularly exposed to (and routinely survive) the extreme stress of finding themselves out in the tropical air at low tide, and many ocean organisms that live through large swings in pH through tidal cycles.

Yes many coral reefs are degraded. Yes it doesn’t look good. But sometimes living diversity supplies marginal adaptations that suddenly fit perfectly into new conditions.

Someone (not Darwin) called it “survival of the fittest.” That’s what the phrase means; not survival of the strongest but of the ones who find themselves in the right place at the right time as conditions change to suddenly suit them. Look around; it works.

Agreed, it is past due to raise the alarm that coral reefs in many areas have largely collapsed, and that their future looks bleak.

As an anguished lover of reefs and living things generally, and as an ecologist by profession, I cannot picture what it will take for coral reef systems to survive and thrive. But I also cannot picture a world in which no reef corals adapt, persist, and flourish, simply because it’s true: Life finds a way.

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