Explorer Profile: Archana Anand, Marine Biologist

Explorer Profile: Archana Anand, Marine Biologist

Archana Anand, a certified diver, is a marine biologist who studies coral reef health.


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Biology, Ecology, Conservation, Earth Science, Oceanography, Geography, Human Geography


Archana Anand

Archana Anand is not only a marine biologist but a certified diver. She studies coral health around the densely populated region of Hong Kong.

Photograph courtesy of Archana Anand 
Archana Anand is not only a marine biologist but a certified diver. She studies coral health around the densely populated region of Hong Kong.

Archana Anand has spent a lot of time underwater. She has made over 50 dives in the waters of places like Hong Kong and Hawai'i to study coral reef health. Anand, a marine biologist, relies on scientific tools to measure the properties of seawater, like its nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous), salinity (salt content) and pH (acidity or alkalinity). She uses these measurements to investigate how water quality and pollution levels impact marine biodiversity.

Born in Chennai, India, on the Bay of Bengal, Anand was fascinated by the sea as a child. Today, she still lives close to the water—in Hong Kong—and she still loves the sea. Her research focuses on corals, marine invertebrates whose skeletons create large underwater reefs. Hong Kong may not seem like the best place to find corals, but in fact, “we have many more than what you can find in the Caribbean,” Anand said in a video produced in honor of the International Year of the Reef 2018.

To study how the health of coral reefs is linked to water quality, Anand uses shoebox-sized structures called Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS). She places these structures, which resemble miniature condominiums on the ocean floor and leaves them there for one or two years. At the end of that time, she retrieves the “condos” to see how many, and what kinds, of marine organisms have colonized them. From her findings, Anand can estimate the health and biodiversity of that section of the ocean. Many of the sea creatures that take up residence in the ARMS are too small to see with the naked eye, so Anand uses microscopes and high-resolution images to study them.

Anand has placed ARMS in some of Hong Kong’s most polluted harbors. Through a project funded by the National Geographic Society, she also recently deployed 12 such units in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands—a first for the Indian subcontinent. By correlating coral health and diversity with measurements of water quality and pollution, she hopes to better understand how people and human activities like shipping affect coastal marine environments.

Anand also studies ecosystem health by looking for the presence of predators, like certain fish species. This “predator test” is simple: On a dive, Anand brings with her a small piece of squid attached to a metal stake, which she drives into the seafloor. She returns an hour later to see whether the morsel has been eaten. If it is still there, Anand concludes that there are not many predators in that area. Many coral reefs contain few predators, she says, because the reefs have been overfished.

The sea is under tremendous pressure from urbanization, Anand says, but she is nonetheless optimistic. She recently retrieved several ARMS in Hong Kong and found an astounding array of sea creatures in them. This is promising news about the marine biodiversity in and around Hong Kong, one of the world’s most densely populated cities. Anand believes each ocean condo has a story to tell and she is excited about what she will unravel both in Hong Kong and India.

Media Credits

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Roza Kavak
Last Updated

May 2, 2024

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