Jeremy Bloomfield Memorial Scholarship 2023 winner

Published Apr 19, 2023

Oscar Crehan has been awarded Wellington UniVentures' Jeremy Bloomfield Memorial Scholarship for 2023. Oscar is pursuing a PhD in Marine Biology at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington. With funding support through the scholarship, Oscar will investigate how to prevent coral bleaching. Ultimately, he hopes to give coral reefs a better chance of surviving the climate crisis.

About Oscar

Oscar Crehan

Oscar has been hooked on corals since he first came face-to-face with them as a diving instructor in Honduras. “I knew immediately that I wanted to protect them,” he says.

Following an undergrad degree in Zoology, he pursued a master’s in Marine Biology from the University of Heriot-Watt to learn everything he could about corals. He wanted to effect change through his research, and for his thesis, he travelled to Malaysia to measure the impacts of tourism and sedimentation on coral reefs. Worryingly, he found both had negative impacts.

Oscar briefly left academia to embark on an impressive career anchored in exploring and protecting coral reefs around the world. This included founding a marine research start-up in the Philippines, editing an online science journal, and leading educational snorkel tours in Australia.

“Throughout my academic and professional career, I had so many ideas about what we could be doing to support coral reef health, but I realised my innovations needed to be rooted in research to be taken seriously.”

He began his doctorate in 2021 under Professor Simon Davy at Te Herenga Waka, studying the relationship between nitrogen metabolism and coral health. Now in his second year of study, Oscar is in a position to put his experience and expertise to practical use, and the Jeremy Bloomfield Memorial Scholarship will help him do that.

The coral reef project

Coral reefs are the most biodiverse marine ecosystem in the world. Despite covering only 1% of the Earth’s surface, they are home to more than a quarter of all fish species.

“Corals provide shelters for fish to grow and reproduce, which in turn supports local fishermen, providing food and income for millions of people. Coral reefs also act as a barrier against storms and tsunamis, protecting those living on coastlines,” explains Oscar.

Warming ocean waters are stressing out coral reefs, causing them to expel the life-sustaining algae that live on their tissues – a process known as coral bleaching. As a result, over 50 percent of the world's coral reefs have died in the last 30 years and up to 90 percent may die within the next century.

Oscar wants to stop and reverse that trend. With support from the scholarship, he will build and test a novel approach for protecting and restoring reef health.

“I’m thrilled to receive the Jeremy Bloomfield Memorial Scholarship, as it will allow me to move my idea for protecting this incredible ecosystem from theory into real-world application.”

Passion for translating research into impact

Oscar views research as a tool for enabling action: “When it comes to studying coral reefs, our work has to be practical and impactful. We don’t have decades to do fundamental research – by that time, the reefs might be gone.”

It’s this solutions-minded approach that helped Oscar’s project stand out among a range of strong applicants for this year’s scholarship, says Jane Evans, Wellington UniVentures’ Head of Engineering and Environment.

"Oscar not only developed a novel and creative idea based on solid research, but he also showed a real passion for translating that idea into an innovation with real-world impact. His solution has the potential to make a huge difference in the conservation and management of coral reefs globally, which are facing an urgent threat of extinction,” says Jane.

Honouring Jeremy Bloomfield’s legacy

Jeremy Bloomfield

Wellington UniVentures established the Jeremy Bloomfield Memorial Scholarship in 2020 in memory of Jeremy Bloomfield, Wellington UniVentures’ Senior Education Programme Manager who suddenly passed away in 2019. Jeremy’s twin passions were the environment and education, so the annual $20,000 scholarship supports Te Herenga Waka researchers in these fields.

Jeremy is remembered by his wife, Christine, and son, Max, who are closely involved in selecting a recipient that honours Jeremy’s legacy.

This year, Max and Chris said they decided to award the scholarship to Oscar because of his impressive experience in the field and the potential impact of his solution: “Improving the state of coral reefs globally is very appealing,” they said.