His mission: save the planet's oceans

There was a time when traveling to far-flung tropical outposts to study stunning undersea landscapes was the best part of John Bruno's work.

Increasingly, however, he's documenting death, forcing the marine ecologist to become a sort of forensic analyst of what has gone wrong.

Bruno, an associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, is now at the center of international debate about the health of the oceans, co-writing a sweeping account of the problems in last month's issue of the journal Science. He's a regular blogger on the Huffington Post Web page and helps maintain two blogs devoted to answering criticism of science and scientists over global warming data.

His conclusion - that global climate change is putting the world's largest ecosystem in peril - has sparked news reports and added to a growing level of alarm about oceans.

"The health of an ecosystem is in complete synergy with the economy," says Bruno, who has been in Australia since December doing research with his mentor and co-author, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg. "There are hundreds of millions of dollars lost" when ecosystems fail.

As a result, he says, it's in everyone's interest to be good environmental stewards. Yet failure is all around, and global warming aside, Bruno points to the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and vastly depleted fisheries as examples of botched oversight.

Bruno, 44, who grew up in South Florida and spent his youth fishing, swimming and exploring the beaches and coastal swamps, says he's shocked at how quickly declines of marine life around the world have occurred.

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