Juli Berwald in conversation with Britanni Sonnenberg.
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ABOUT LIFE ON THE ROCKS
The story of the urgent fight to save coral reefs, and why it matters to us all
Coral reefs are a microcosm of our planet: extraordinarily diverse, deeply interconnected, and full of wonders. When they’re thriving, these fairy gardens hidden beneath the ocean’s surface burst with color and life. They sustain bountiful ecosystems and protect vulnerable coasts. Corals themselves are evolutionary marvels that build elaborate limestone formations from their collective skeletons, broker symbiotic relationships with algae, and manufacture their own fluorescent sunblock. But corals across the planet are in the middle of an unprecedented die-off, beset by warming oceans, pollution, damage by humans, and a devastating pandemic.
Juli Berwald fell in love with coral reefs as a marine biology student, entranced by their beauty and complexity. Alarmed by their peril, she traveled the world to discover how to prevent their loss. She met scientists and activists operating in emergency mode, doing everything they can think of to prevent coral reefs from disappearing forever. She was so amazed by the ingenuity of these last-ditch efforts that she joined in rescue missions, unexpected partnerships, and risky experiments, and helped rebuild reefs with rebar and zip ties.
Life on the Rocks is an inspiring, lucid, meditative ode to the reefs and the undaunted scientists working to save them against almost impossible odds. As she also attempts to help her daughter in her struggle with mental illness, Berwald explores what it means to keep fighting a battle whose outcome is uncertain. She contemplates the inevitable grief of climate change and the beauty of small victories.
About Juli Berwald
Juli Berwald received her PhD in ocean science from the University of Southern California. The author of Spineless and a science textbook writer and editor, she has written for a number of publications including The New York Times, Nature, National Geographic, and Slate.
About Britanni Sonnenberg
Brittani Sonnenberg has an MFA from the University of Michigan and lives in Austin. She serves as a visiting lecturer at the MFA program of the University of Hong Kong and teaches creative writing classes for the Texas Writer’s League, Story Bar, and Gemini Ink, as well as private classes and coaching. Her award-winning fiction has been widely published in magazines such as Ploughshares, anthologized in the O’Henry Short Story Prize Series, and received distinguished story recognition by Best American Short Stories. Her non-fiction has been published by Time Magazine, the Hairpin, the Associated Press, NPR, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and elsewhere. Her comics and poetry have been featured in Austin Monthly, The Visual Poetry Project, and North American Review. Her novel, Home Leave, was selected as a New York Times’ Editors’ Pick. She studied English literature with a citation in Mandarin Chinese at Harvard University. She was a European Journalism Fellow at Berlin’s Freie Universität from 2009-2010 and served as the editor of the American Academy’s Berlin Journal from 2011-2013.
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