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'Super Coral' Pioneer Ruth Gates Passes Away At 56

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A photo of a coral bleaching event under water. Ruth Gates, a renowned marine biologist who pioneered super corals, has passed away. She was diagnosed with brain cancer five months ago.   ( The Ocean Agency )

Ruth Gates, a researcher who dedicated her life to saving the world's underwater reef ecosystems, has passed away. She was 56 years old. 

The respected marine biologist was diagnosed with brain cancer back in May and has been on medical leave since then. She died in Honolulu on Thursday, Oct. 25. 

She is survived by her wife Robin Burton-Gates, her brother Tim Gates, and her colleagues and friends. 

Ruth Gates's Legacy

Gates is best known for "super coral," a project from 2015 in which she developed a coral that can withstand the negative effects of global warming. Because of greenhouse gases trapping the heat and raising the global temperature, including the water in the oceans, corals go through a process called coral bleaching. Repeated instances of coral bleaching can kill corals, affecting the local underwater ecosystem that thrives within. 

Gates's work was featured in the 2017 Netflix documentary Chasing Coral. She had always known that she wanted to be a marine biologist even as a child.

Even when detractors told her that she was not smart enough to be in the sciences, she thrived and eventually became a prominent voice in saving coral reefs. She also became the director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. 

"Ruth was really a force of nature, I mean she was just an amazingly productive scientist, one of the brightest, most inquisitive minds that we had in the whole field of coral reef science," said Mark Eakin, the coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Her energy was boundless."

Super Corals Are The Future Of The Ocean

To create super corals that can survive even in unusually warm ocean water, Gates and her colleagues from the University of Hawaii collected samples from the reef and applied assisted evolution techniques. This fast-forwards the evolution of corals, making them more resilient to the changes in the global climate.

Although Gates will never see the fruits of her handiwork, her colleagues and the people who have been inspired by her passion have vowed to continue her role as a crusader for the environment. Already, work on super corals has already started. 

After being granted $4 million of funding in 2015, the mission to develop super corals is now in its fourth year.

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