TED Fellows » TED Fellows Network » Kristen Marhaver

Kristen Marhaver

Coral reef biologist

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Kristen Marhaver

Professional Role

Current Titles:

NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Ocean Sciences at Carmabi Foundation Research Station, Curacao

Current Organizations:

Carmabi Foundation


Uploaded Photos

Flickr Photostream


Organizing the World's Scientific Information by Date and Author is Making Mother Earth Sick

Google Tech Talk (more info below) August 25, 2011 Presented by Kristen Marhaver. ABSTRACT Scientific information looks a lot like the news because it's printed on paper and built with sentences we believe to be true. But treating scientific papers as if they were a constant stream of news is dangerous because it gives even the most crucial discoveries about Earth's ecosystems only one day of public attention. This confuses the public by obscuring true scientific consensus and allows policymakers to avoid tough decisions. In my talk, I'll explain why we should be organizing scientific discoveries as if they were products, using informal peer ratings to keep the most important work at the top of list for policymakers and the public to see. Such an effort requires us to consider factors like subscription walls, data access, political agendas, the nature of scientific debate and the deeply-entrenched habits of old academia. Despite the challenges of ranking a product as peculiar as the world's scientific information, I'll argue that a new approach is crucial if we are to make the tough decisions that will protect Mother Earth for the long term. Speaker Info: Kristen Marhaver, UC Merced. Kristen is a Caribbean coral biologist who earned her Ph.D. at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and her bachelor's degree in biology at Georgia Tech. Trained by her fellow Techies to think like an engineer, she found that not only are the world's oceans dysfunctional, but so are the systems that scientists rely on to communicate these problems to the world. Speaking up on these issues, she won awards for her science writing on blogs and her presentations at conferences, but she was never able to win over the person who assigns the ocean-view offices at Scripps. She thus believes that that virtually every system could be further optimized.

View video on Youtube »

Swimming coral larvae

Montastraea faveolata larvae swimming in a Petri dish and lookin good at the same time

View video on Youtube »


Research: Behavior of coral larvae in response to bacterial cues
10/01/2012 – 12/31/2013
Curacao-based research project funded by the US National Science Foundation to investigate the the role of marine bacteria in the behavior, settlement, and survivorship of Caribbean coral larvae. Public Summary of the project at NSF.gov

Advocacy: Challenging traditions in science publishing
05/25/2010 – present
I'm working to re-think how scientists publish, organize, and communicate their research, acting as an advocate for open-access publishing, and challenging young scientists to approach the publishing process with fresh eyes rather than blindly adopting the traditions we have inherited from Old Academia.

My writing at ScienceProgress.org proposing to improve conservation and science communication by building a curated database of policy-relevant scientific literature

My TechTalks@Google seminar on the risks to Mother Earth if science publishing is not improved

My abstract from the ICES Conference for Early Career Scientists proposing that young marine scientists take a novel approach to publishing and science communication

Progress made:
PLoS Biology acknowledges many of the points I made at Google, including the need for better article organization and better communication to non-scientist groups

Google Scholar adds personalized article recommendations based on your publication record.

Research: Using marine microbes to develop novel reef restoration methods
10/20/2012 – 12/31/2015
With students and collaborators in California and Curacao, we have identified marine bacteria that cue settlement in coral larvae from a variety of Caribbean species. Next, these bacteria will be used to test and develop novel, low-cost methods to improve the effectiveness of reef restoration projects. At the same time, this work helps to build a study system for investigating the behavioral consequences of microbe-invertebrate interactions.
Project Website »

Photography: An obsession with tiny underwater things
03/01/1997 – present
Finding the tiniest things underwater and taking medium-bad, but sometimes medium-good photographs of them

MICRObiology Album

Pacific Pastels Album


I'm a coral biologist in the Caribbean, studying the needs/desires/talents of coral larvae, i.e., the coral reefs of the future. My research is both basic (studying ecological principles and animal behavior on coral reefs) and applied (inventing new reef restoration approaches).

I'm also working to increase the power of scientific information in society by rethinking how scientists publish and organize their knowledge.

Some Credentials: B.S. from Georgia Tech, Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Ocean Sciences, Professional Certificate in Art and the Creative Process from UCSD Extension, plus the generally-useless ability to sort coral larvae into statistically-distinct size classes with a glass pipette.

Fun facts

Favorite meal:
In a tiny restaurant in the hills of Kyoto one winter, I sat on a tatami mat for a five-course lunch served by Buddhist monks... and EVERY course was made of tofu. It was a vegetarian dream come true.

A funny story about me:
No matter what I try, I always look like a Muppet underwater.

Vital Stats

Fellows Class
TEDGlobal 2012
Living in
Willemstad, Curacao
Working in
Willemstad, Curacao
Born in
Wichita, United States



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