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Coral Reefs, Hermit Crabs, and Tube Worms (Part 1)

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Date and time
Monday, April 26, 2010

Randi Rotjan, a coral ecologist at the New England Aquarium in Boston, shares stories from her time spent studying coral reefs. Randi has been stung by jellyfish, coral, you name it. It's all part of the job, studying coral reefs on location in exotic locales like the Red Sea or the Phoenix Islands, the world's largest marine protected area. She goes face to face with hermit crabs as they line up, after the usual jostling, to form "vacancy chains", waiting to trade in their old shells for newer, larger ones. It's the classic upgrade, and it follows rules--perhaps ones we humans might care to copy. Rules abound undersea--as does death. If the water temperature is too warm, corals bleach, starve, and die. And if the tube worms that thrive near deep sea hydrothermal vents venture too far from the fissure, they'll freeze. But most of the time, they're doing just fine, thank you, feasting on the poisonous spewing gases they're so fond of. Note: this is part 1 of 2 with Randi Rotjan, and it features an audio interview. Part 2 features a short video on the subject of corollivary, the eating of coral by fish.

Randi Rotjan is a marine ecologist at the New England Aquarium. She works with a diverse array of organisms in exotic habitats, including tropical coral reefs, rocky intertidal ecosystems, and deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Her main scientific interests center around the performance of ecosystem engineers (organisms with a disproportionate influence on their habitat, such as trees or corals or tubeworms), and how factors such as ecology, symbiosis, and behavior indirectly drive the structuring of various marine habitats.
My name is Jenny Attiyeh, and I began my career in 1987 in London as a freelance reporter on the arts for the BBC World Service Radio. I remember my first interview for “Meridian”, as the program I worked for was called. It was with Placido Domingo, and I’ve never been so nervous since. After my work permit ran out, I returned to Los Angeles, my home city, and continued as an arts reporter for KCRW, an NPR station in Santa Monica. While there, I reported and produced an award-winning documentary on Japanese-American internment during World War II. Shortly after, I was accepted to a National Public Radio residency, which brought me to Washington, D.C. and to WBUR, an NPR station in Boston to report stories for NPR’s Performance Today. I later attended the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. After that, I remained in New York City for 9 years, during which time I worked primarily as a reporter on television and radio. I hosted and produced a weekly arts and culture segment for WNYC TV, a PBS station, until it went out of business (thanks to then Mayor Giuliani, who sold the station). Before the lights went out, I managed to produce a mini-documentary on the making of a Philip Glass opera, “Les Enfants Terribles.” I worked next as a correspondent for a nationally televised PBS program called “Freedom Speaks” which focused on the media, until it too was taken off the air. (I detect a pattern here…) In between gigs, I also worked as a reporter for WBAI radio, a Pacifica station, and WNYC radio, an NPR station, covering local politics and the arts. I then moved to Maine, where I lived by the harbor in Kittery, and worked as a reporter for New Hampshire Public Television. There, I covered the ‘99/2000 New Hampshire presidential primary season, and interviewed the major presidential candidates. I also participated as a panelist in nationally televised presidential debates, hosted by Peter Jennings and Tim Russert. Following the conclusion of the New Hampshire primary season, I moved to Boston, where I did freelance writing on academics, the 2004 presidential campaign and the single life, among other subjects. From this base, in early 2005, I launched ThoughtCast.