Sam Purkis, PhD

Chief Scientist


At a young age I was fortunate enough to stumble on a copy of Jacques Cousteau’s 1953 book “The Silent World”, which piqued my interest in everything underwater. Shortly thereafter, I saw his movie of the same name. I was hooked. At the earliest possible opportunity, I learned to SCUBA dive, becoming a diving instructor when I left school and basing myself in the southern Egyptian Red Sea for 1992 and 1993. I then returned to England to train as a marine biologist at the University of Southampton (1994 - 1998), before relocating to the Netherlands to complete a M.Sc. and Ph.D. under the supervision of Wolfgang Schlager and Jeroen Kenter, graduating in 2004. Thereafter, I crossed the Atlantic as a post-doc supervised by Bernhard Riegl, with whom I still work closely, before being promoted to faculty with the National Coral Reef Institute – Nova Southeastern University in 2006. I joined the University of Miami with the rank of Professor in 2016 and shortly thereafter became Chair of the Department of Marine Geosciences. Here, I am pursuing the diverse research interests I have developed over the last 20 years or so, and teaching frequently.

Having witnessed the “coral reef crisis” first hand, I also strive to promote big ocean conservation. The scientific consensus is that a third of the ocean must be protected from human pressures, and the bigger the continuous area the better. I take pride in being Co-Founder of the Chagos Conservation Trust - US, a charitable foundation that, with partners, successfully lobbied for the declaration of Earth’s largest protected area, the Chagos archipelago, that sprawls across >600,000 sq. km of the central Indian Ocean. My research focus with the Living Oceans Foundation is centered on their Global Reef Expedition and the opportunity that this exceptional dataset affords for modeling and mapping coral reef resilience.