After earning a PhD at the University of New Hampshire, Gosliner headed for the South African Museum in Cape Town, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. The waters there were not only considerably warmer, they were also relatively unexplored.
“So few papers had been published on the nudibranchs of South Africa that everything I was finding there was new,” Gosliner recalls. “I thought it was biodiversity heaven. Little did I know.”
In 1982, when Gosliner was hired by the Academy as an assistant curator, “we thought Papua New Guinea was the center of biodiversity,” he says. “It was the only part of the Coral Triangle that had been well studied.”
That all started to change in 1991, while Gosliner was leading a diving team in Papua New Guinea that included a well-traveled underwater photographer.
“He told me, ‘This is really nice, but what I’ve seen in the Philippines is even richer.’ So the next year I went to the Philippines,” Gosliner says, “and he was absolutely right. The biodiversity there was mind-boggling.”
Since that time, Gosliner and the Academy as a whole have conducted more than two decades of exploration, research, and community outreach in the archipelago nation of the Philippines, and those 7,000-plus islands are now recognized as a biodiversity hotspot. The Philippine Coral Reef exhibit that visitors experience today is an extension of that work, mirroring the reef habitats of the Philippines’ Anilao, Batangas, and the Verde Island Passage.
Despite challenging environmental threats to coral reefs and marine life worldwide, the results of Academy work in the Philippines gives Gosliner reason to hope.
“The coral reefs in the Philippines are in better shape today than they were 20 years ago when I began diving there,” he says. “They are surprisingly resilient. Our collaborative efforts in the Philippines show that we can protect these habits. If we can halt damaging activities such as dynamite fishing and pollution run-off, coral reefs and other marine habitats will return to health.”