Lucas Jackson on documenting a lethal disease destroying coral in the Caribbean Sea
Last month, Reuters captured details of a fast-moving, lethal disease that’s destroying large numbers of coral species off the coast of Florida and the Caribbean, but scientists don’t know how to stop it. In an effort to save the coral, researchers and divers are removing diseased specimens to keep it from spreading. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, senior photographer Lucas Jackson gives a behind-the-scenes look at how he reported the story.
Q: How did you get started on the story?
A: I had a conversation earlier in the year with Corinne Perkins and Christine Chan about subjects related to climate change that we are working to execute for the Reuters wire and corals was a subject of interest. As I researched how coral is faring globally related to climate change I discovered this relatively new disease that was really affecting the reefs off Florida and had recently made a jump to the Virgin Islands. It seemed an interesting sub-story in the wider “how is coral doing with climate change” so we worked to find people who could educate us about it to the point where we could write a deeply reported story that had good context and detail.
Q: How did you prepare yourself to document under water?
A: It was a process. I took several S.C.U.B.A classes here in New York City to prepare. I trained in a pool and then went to Charleston to train in a lake to get cleared to dive in open water. I had done a small amount of underwater photography a number of years ago but after emailing around we found that our European counterparts had a very robust underwater housing that I could use. I brought it with me on the first trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands and after some testing I was able to get it working flawlessly and it all came together nicely.
Q: Over the course of the reporting, what surprised you the most?
A: I learned a ton on this assignment. I didn’t really understand what coral was and how it worked so that was fascinating to get my head around. I also didn’t really appreciate how important having the reefs could be for coastlines as storms and sea level rises bring more ocean energy to places that are barely holding on as it is. I was also surprised how many people have heard of coral bleaching but really didn’t understand what it was or what the impacts of coral health are for us as residents of this planet.
Q: Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A: I would love if I had the time to become either a doctor or a teacher. Both of those professions are hands-on with helping and educating people in a way that journalism attempts, but can fall short of.