Curator of Corals

Curator of Corals

14th February, 2027:
Principality of Monaco

It was the day of love; a new beginning towards a greater purpose. The skies sparkled bright with the golden ball radiating its effect upon not just the heavens and skies but also the lands and oceans. The far-fetched oceans canoodled at the horizons and glittered in hues of teal, green, blue and aureum as it reflected the rays of the sun upon its pristine form.

While the world celebrated Valentine’s Day, Monaco flaunted the essence of love and passion throughout its being. For Nancy, it was love at first sight; a saga that had begun over half a century ago.

‘The Scientific Centre of Monaco and the Oceanographic Museum’ stood resplendent in divine effulgence and beauty. Coral reefs had flooded the display labs and the alluring species stood gleaming in its mesmerising diversity at the exhibit centre. It was the new launch ceremony of ‘The Thousand Species’ show for culture and preservation of coral reefs. The inauguration ceremony was scheduled for the next morning at 10am.

Nancy’s blend of excitement and composure could be witnessed in her slender figure that appeared pensive, yet restless, standing and deeply soaked in admiration of her babies. She was truly an angel, a protector of the oceans. She belonged to the seas. Her entire life and mission was dedicated to nourishing the sea beds. 

Tiny brown freckles evenly spread over Nancy’s nose and cheeks against her fair skin. Her thick, blond hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail while a side fringe fell over the right side of her oval face. Her nose was sharp and sculpted while her cheekbones accentuated her features. Her almond eyes wore a shade of frosty blue, much like the winter sea that is made bright, not warm, by the sun rays falling upon them. There were hardly any traces of wrinkles on this quinquagenarian’s attractive face.

The museum coordinator, Ralph intruded on her thoughts, “So Nancy, Congratulations! You have managed to reach the thousand species mark finally! You must be ecstatic.”

“Ralph, you do realise that this is just the first of its kind benchmark. We have only covered two thirds of the existing species. We aim to cultivate these naturally occurring corals in our labs and distribute them to the largest aquariums and research centres globally; and that… is an arduous task.

“I’m sure you know that coral reefs are at the crossroads of the fight for the ocean, the climate and biodiversity and we are only attempting to safeguard them.”

“But hey, you have surely paved a chart towards your goal, haven’t you?”

“Well, the final step is to not just be able to conserve and cultivate all the 1600 species of these beauties in our labs, but also preserve, protect, distribute them to global centres and finally flourish and nurture the sea beds.”

“Your efforts are commendable, Nancy. You don’t have much to worry about.”

“I’ve grown amidst these beauties on the coast of Monaco. It’s been part of my life and I feel that it’s my moral responsibility to safeguard them.

“I’m, but a miniscule channel in fructifying the efforts. It needs that whole network to work in coordination for this task to be deemed successful. Just grateful that I have opportunely reached that mark, somewhere. The final goal, however, is still a distant dream.”

Nancy deep blue eyes reflected the shades of those myriad coral beauties that were encased in ginormous glass casements while Ralph stood awed, gaping at the intense passion Nancy held for these corals, despite her gradual ageing.

About five years ago on 8th October 2022, Monaco: 
(Under the ocean floor coral nursery)

Nancy and her team of three marine biologists plunged into the ocean from the mother boats adorning their full underwater diving suits with paddling footwear or waders. A circuit breathing regulator was tied to their backs with flexible wires connecting to the dual oxygen cylinders for regulated and uninterrupted breathing. The surface supply equipment had the helmet or full face mask accompanied by the diver’s umbilical, airline, bailout block, bailout cylinder and regulator.

These marine biologists were thorough professionals who glided like fishes under the ocean floor with a marked air of confidence, grace and beauty. They communicated using expert and advanced dactylology to guide the planting of corals within the fringes of the underwater nursery. 

The team appeared rather busy planting the new newly cultivated species of the lab coral reefs. So far, they had been able to gather just about six hundred odd specimens in their laboratories for cultivation and preservation. 

The search for conservation and analysis was being held in full force. The team carefully hand planted each coral specimens; those marine invertebrates classified within the class Anthozoa of the phylum Cnidaria. 

The team had floated 1440 square kilometres of the Atlantic continental margin off Monaco. This was where approximately sixteen thousand exposed and buried cold-water coral mounds were exposed; predominantly arranged in two slope-parallel belts. It was a peculiar feature observed in other coral mound provinces, too.

The wide ocean floors held a spectacular display of brilliant resurrection of some near extinct species encompassed within the periphery. Different life-forms showing a range of hue and colour created a kaleidoscopic pattern of beauty leaving the viewers mesmerised.

While the corals themselves withheld different colours and shapes, one could witness those diversity in colour and pattern among sponges, octopuses, jelly fishes, crabs, sea anemones, sea-snakes, dolphins and flamingos thriving wild in the lap of the ocean bed.

It was no wonder that the reefs were referred to as the ‘Rainforest of the Oceans’, for the most miraculous scenes were witnessed by its viewers. 

The underwater coral bed nurseries held themselves separate within certain borderline and stood distinct against the regular reefs. 

There stood a boundary of shielding with mesh wired nets that prevented other marine forms from disrupting or destroying these newly budding fragile life forms. 

Once the corals were big enough to bear the load of marine life thriving within them, they were replanted with the larger reef system to merge and grow as part of the marine ecology.

The dedicated team of biologists headed by Nancy had created a ‘World Coral Conservatory’ to preserve the strains of many species of coral in aquariums before re-implanting them in devastated areas.

4th September, 2017:
Monaco (Primary Laboratory Centre at The Scientific Centre of Monaco)

Nancy’s team was buried deeply in the study of sexual and asexual multiplication of the newly procured species of underwater corals. 

Nancy, on the other hand was busy offering a tour of the laboratory and inducting the new trainee biologist, Hillary while explaining to her, the current situation of the ocean floors.

“So, as on date, less than 250 species of corals are grown in aquariums around the world. We need to put in more efforts to effectively mass produce the corals that are fast depleting from the ocean floors.  

“We have managed to procure three species of corals this week and are working on their mass reproduction both sexually and asexually. That is truly a blessing in disguise, as the dual reproduction characteristic helps us to multiply them faster in laboratories. Identifying the near depleting ones is the most crucial task.”

Hillary looked like a nerdy geek with those jumbo spectacles upon her crooked nose, auburn hair and tanned skin as she frantically scribbled the details on a spiral notepad as explained by Nancy.

Nancy took her to the first experiment table where Albert was working with ‘Open Brain Corals’. 

She continued, “Look, these ‘Open Brain Corals’ are highly popular coral species for use in home fish tanks. It has an odd-looking figure-eight shape and a spectacular colour spectrum. In fact, as they get older, Open Brain Corals can develop into a slew of different fluorescent colours, which is why they’re so popular among home reef aquarists.

“There are quarantine restrictions on the culture and growing of corals at homes but that doesn’t deter enthusiasts from nurturing them.

“We are working on the quick multiplication of these species as they are facing a natural threat owing to dramatic climate changes,” she concluded.

Nancy paused as Hillary completed making her notes and they proceeded to the next table where Yashin was working with ‘Bubble Corals’.

Hillary was astounded by the beauty of these creatures and enquired, “Wow, these look like glowing pink transparent grapes. These are such beauties. Are these the Bubble Corals?”

Nancy offered a look of affection upon the coral species as she spoke, “Boasting of a spectacular bubble-like pattern, the Bubble Corals are an instantly recognisable species of coral that’s popular among reef aquarists. 

“The ‘bubbles’ are grape-sized which increase their surface area according to the amount of light available; they are larger during the day, but smaller during the night, when tentacles reach out to capture food.

“The bubble-shaped tentacles actually expand or contract depending on the coral’s feeding schedule. These have tiny dinoflagellates that are able to photosynthesize, and provide the Bubble Coral with most of its necessary nutrition.

“They are known to inhabit waters as far north as the Florida Keys, but they prefer deep waters, particularly around shipwrecks,” Nancy paused.


Hillary was astounded by the depth of knowledge she was acquiring on the very first day with a hands-on experience and view of these ocean beauties. 

They moved to the final table and got a striking view of different amber, tangerine and black shades that felt warm and pleasing to the eyes. 

Nancy asked, “What do you think of these charmers?”

Hillary responded, “Oh, they remind me of the sunflower fields from my hometown.”

Nancy smiled and said, “Indeed, Sun Corals belong to a group of corals known as large-polyp stony corals. This means that while they produce a hard skeleton, they do not actually build any reefs.

“Also, Sun Corals don’t rely on photosynthetic microorganisms for their sustenance, and so, they’re actually one of the easier corals to care for in captivity.

“They can eat surprisingly large quantities of food, such as Mysis shrimp. However, since their polyps only open at night, they have to be fed during the night time hours. Who could define the laws of Nature?” she chuckled.

The laboratory housed a variety of other corals that were bred and cultivated there. Hillary was impressed with the choicest collection there and was eager to know more but that would have to wait until another time. 

20th May, 1998: Monaco:
(Global Mass Coral Bleaching)

The heatwave this month and the rising global temperatures were a growing cause of concern and a huge crisis. The first, and most severe, recorded bleaching had marked its appearance upon not just the reefs of Monaco, but across the reefs globally. 

Nancy and her team of biologists had just emerged from the ocean floor survey and the revelation was shocking and disturbing. The mass bleaching had affected most corals and reduced the coral cover by approximately 80%. Less severe and patchy bleaching was observed some other reefs globally. But this was mass scale destruction of corals and a threat to marine biology. 

Nancy was working as a marine biologist under senior research scientist and marine biologist, Mark. 

The underwater photographs revealed some mind boggling images. What otherwise appeared as a phantasmagorical bed of imageries from the land of fantasy, today appeared muted and bleak without a sign of life. 

Mark pointed at the pale images of corals and stated, “You see, when water gets too warm, owing to sudden climatic changes, corals expel the algae living in their tissues causing the corals to turn completely white. It is an event in which the corals feel threatened and expel their own life-producing algae, that otherwise give colour and the underlying tone to the corals. These images you see are a serious case of mass coral bleaching.

“This event is not the first of its kind. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly the major destructive bleaching event that’s ever occurred.

“Howbeit, the good news is that when a coral bleaches, it is not actually dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but it also means that they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.

“We must aim to set up a conditioned lab atmosphere where these species can be revived and set to thrive.”

Nancy intervened, “Mark, I would personally like to request, that you make me in charge of the revival set-up. I’ve experienced this phase before. Having grown with these life forms, I am sure of creating a difference and guaranteeing their revival and survival.”

Nancy’s word of confidence reinvigorated Mark’s trust. He simply said, “I have faith in you, Nancy. You will go places, my girl. Just start. You have my sanction.”

Nancy felt deep gratitude as she humbly accepted the new challenge to resuscitate these creatures.

22nd August, 1982: Monaco
(Global El Niño effect)

Nancy was out on the reef point where dad had mentioned about the occurrence of an El Niño condition. 

He was an expert who knew the oceans better than most scientists did. 

His voice sounded grave with concern, “An El Niño effect occurs when surface water in the equatorial Pacific becomes warmer than average and east winds blow weaker than normal.

“Warmer ocean temperatures caused by El Niño and global warming can lead to something that experts call coral bleaching,” his voice dissolved in grief.

Nancy’s brows frowned in apprehension as she asked, “Can we do something to help, daddy?”

“The situation is grim, yet not fully out of control. This is one of its kind occurrence. Scientists are of the opinion that the condition may worsen with the altering climatic changes caused as a result of global warming.”

“Daddy, I’ve promised to protect the oceans. I will be a marine biologist, a scientist of the ocean when I grow up. You think I can then be able to do something to make a difference?”

“Of course, my sweetie. You must be whatever beckons you. A marine biologist indeed!”

11th January, 1978: 
Monaco reef bay

The oceans beckoned little Nancy towards its deep abyss. On an enjoyable ride upon a small private boat, she was having the time of her life with her dad. The azure skies reflected their shades upon the ocean waters and the breeze carried with them the salty fragrance that left behind a sticky note. The oceans appeared calm and mysterious.

The speed boat had revved up in full force from the shoreline and now parked itself amidst the clear waters that appeared like a transparent teal glass bottomed vessel with a mystical enticement of the ocean floor.

The spectrum of variegated hues spread upon the ocean floor as she readied herself with the  diving paraphernalia to plunge deep and encounter its rich abundance. The magnificence of these ocean drop-offs was enthralling. 

Hidden beneath the ocean waters, the coral reefs teemed with life and vigour. Fishes in rainbow shades, sea anemones, lobsters, clams, seahorses, sponges and sea turtles were only a few of the thousands of other creatures that Nancy witnessed under water.

Nancy, though young, was enthusiastic and eager to know all about the marine life. She had spent all her childhood holidays, weekends and vacations simply exploring the ocean floors with her mentor and idol, her dad. 

Her dad began, “My dear munchkin, I’m sure you know Coral reefs are living museums and reflect thousands of years of history.

“They have a diverse and productive population of plants and animals. In fact, coral reefs support 25 to 30% of all marine life, even though they merely cover 1% of the ocean floor worldwide,” dad said.

Nancy gasped in excitement. “Wow daddy, this is a fantasy world. I want to live with them and see them grow better with time. I wish to grow up and be their guardian. You think I can do it?”

“Of course, my angel. Coral reefs provide a habitat for plants and animals, a breakwater for cities on land, they are reservoirs of food, sources of medicine and also generate income for humans.

“I’ve already exposed you to the world of corals. This is your responsibility now. How you care for it, how you mould to make it better, what impact you produce can create magic. And you, my l’il one are a magician already.”

“Daddy, I feel part of the ocean already. I’m sure I was a mermaid in my last birth. I can sense the love that emanates through the ocean life. I want to be their friend, their custodian. You have introduced me to the most bewitching wonders and helped me befriend them. I can sense the oceans responding to my calls.”

“Remember, my child, that corals are the true jewels of the ocean and essential to marine life. And you, are the most loyal custodian of the ocean world.”

That statement transported Nancy into a deep trance. She felt sure about herself. She visualised herself as a protector, a curator of life upon the ocean floors. Today, she had discovered her greater purpose and the very reason for her existence. 

  1. dactylology- Sign language using hands for non-verbal communication
  2. dinoflagellates- single-cell eukaryotes or marine planktons or residual algae
  3. phantasmagorical- A sequence of real or imaginary images like that seen in a dream

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Lakshmi Ajoy
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