Ruth D. Gates, director and researcher at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, died on October 25, 2018. Gates, who joined HIMB in 2003, contributed seminal research to understanding coral reef biology and the impacts of climate change on reef ecosystems.
“Ruth was not only a shining star in coral research, but an indomitable spirit in every aspect of life,” said Judy Lemus, HIMB interim director and friend of Gates. “Her enthusiasm was contagious, and she absolutely loved what she did. Her loss will be felt deeply within our own community and throughout the broader research community.”
Gates was a tireless innovator and advocate for coral reef conservation. Coral reefs around the world have experienced massive die off as a result of warming ocean temperatures, increasing acidity, pollution runoff from land and other threats. The focus of her most recent research efforts was creating “super corals,” coral species occurring naturally in the ocean that could be trained to become more resilient to these harsh conditions.
“Knowing that time is short to save corals and humanity, Ruth saw opportunity in breeding corals that have not only survived prior hardships, but thrived under tough conditions. With backing from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Foundation, her lab is determining what traits make some corals better survivors than others, and reinforcing those traits through selective breeding,” said Brian Taylor, dean of the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.
“I have heard from hundreds of people, scientists and non-scientists who have expressed their admiration and appreciation for all that Ruth meant to them and to the world,” said Michael Bruno, UH Mānoa vice chancellor for research. “Ruth’s vision and passion will be missed by all of us who were fortunate to have worked with her. Most of all, I will miss her generous spirit; Ruth was always generous with her time and her knowledge, and we were all made better as a result.”
“Ruth was a cherished colleague and friend. All of us who had the good fortune to know her, work with her or spend time with her will miss her deeply,” said David Lassner, interim UH Mānoa chancellor and UH president. “UH has lost a gifted teacher, a creative researcher, a remarkable collaborator and a compelling communicator. And the world has lost a powerful champion for our coral reefs and one of our most effective voices in the fight against climate change and its devastating impact on our planet.”
Recognizing the importance of training the next generation of scientists, Gates advised 17 graduate students and 14 post-doctoral students; and mentored many others to find their path to make their unique contribution.
Gates’ passion for sharing new scientific discoveries and encouraging the global community to contribute to coral reef conservation came through in her many public speaking events, in the Emmy award-winning film Chasing Coral that featured her research, and in all that she did to communicate the urgency of climate change impacts on marine ecosystems.
Gates received numerous awards and recognition, including the UH President’s Emerging Leaders fellowship in 2008, the Paul Allen X-Prize Ocean Challenge to Mitigate Impacts of Ocean Acidification in 2013, the 2014 UH Board of Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Research, ARCS Foundation Scientist of the Year 2015, president of the International Society for Reef Studies 2015–2019, and 2015 Distinguished Woman Scholar by the University of Victoria, Canada.