Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
March 28, 2004:
Under the sea
Cynthia Lazaroff 80 is working on
a project that will produce the worlds first baseline
map of coral reefs. (Liz Lonky)
Lazaroff 80 works to stop destruction of coral reefs
Known as the rainforests of the sea, coral reefs are home to more
than a quarter of all fish species on Earth and are the most biodiverse
ecosystem in the ocean. They provide food for 10 percent of the
Earths population and protect the shoreline from erosion.
But due to sewage pollution, global warming, and illegal fishing
practices, including overfishing and the bombing of reefs to bring
fish to the surface, coral reefs around the world are dying. An
estimated 10 percent of coral reefs have already disappeared, and
an estimated 58 percent of all coral reefs are at risk today. If
nothing were done, they could be eliminated from much of the planet
by the beginning of the next century.
About four years ago, when Cynthia Lazaroff 80, a stay-at-home
mom at the time, first learned about the plight of the worlds
coral reefs and the vital role they play in the life cycle of marine
life at a lecture by Abigail Alling, the president of the Planetary
Coral Reef Foundation, she was stunned, says Lazaroff.
She recently had been snorkeling with her then two-year-old daughter,
MacKenzie, on a damaged reef in Antigua, and she asked Alling how
she could help.
Within a few weeks, Lazaroff became executive vice president of
the Santa Fe-based Planetary Coral Reef Foundation (www.pcrf.org)
and opened up its West Coast office in her Pacific Palisades, California,
home, overlooking Santa Monica Bay. Since then she has worked tirelessly
to oversee an international campaign to preserve and protect coral
reefs and to promote public awareness of coral reefs by, among other
things, designing a curriculum for schoolchildren and exhibits for
museums. The foundation also studies coral reefs from its traveling
research vessel, RV Heraclitus.
Lazaroff is working on a project that will provide the worlds
first baseline map of living coral reefs. A team at M.I.T. is designing
a sensor for a satellite, which will be launched in Russia by about
2010, that will map and monitor coral reefs over time, says Lazaroff.
The sensor will act like eyes and see through the curtains
of air and water, she explains. The satellite will transmit
data back to Earth, and the information will be disseminated over
the Internet for people around the world to access.
Before turning her attention to coral reefs, Lazaroff, a politics
major with a certificate in Russian studies at Princeton, spent
more than 20 years as a Russian-American relations specialist, educator,
filmmaker, and activist, and in 1983 founded the first U.S.-U.S.S.R.
Youth Exchange Program.
She says of her new role, I love the sea, I love coral reefs,
and I cant imagine leaving a world without reefs to my daughter.
One of the great joys of my life is watching her delight and wonder
at the beauty of these sea creatures. I want her to have the chance
to do this with her children and her childrens children.