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`Super coral' scientist dies in Hawaii

Pioneering coral reef scientist Ruth Gates has died aged 56. (AAP)

Pioneering coral reef scientist Ruth Gates, who advocated helping corals adapt to warming waters, has died aged 56.

Pioneering coral reef scientist Ruth Gates, who dedicated much of her career to saving the world's fragile and deteriorating underwater reef ecosystems, has died aged 56.

Gates died in Honolulu on Thursday, the University of Hawaii said on Tuesday.

The researcher, also the president of the International Society for Reef Studies, was diagnosed with brain cancer in May and had been on medical leave since.

Gates, who was was born in Akrotiri, Cyprus, in 1962, became known globally for her idea to speed up coral evolution and create more resilient reefs.

The goal of her project to breed "super coral " was to develop coral that could withstand the devastating effects of climate change. Her work was featured in the 2017 Netflix documentary "Chasing Coral."

Warmer ocean temperatures can cause corals to go through a process known as bleaching, where the animals become weak and sick. Repeated bleaching events can lead to coral death and the loss of entire reef ecosystems.

Gates' colleague and partner in the assisted evolution project, Professor Madeleine van Oppen of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said Gates was "a great inspiration" to many.

"She was intelligent, professional and had a wonderful sense of humour," Van Oppen told the AP in an email. "She was a great ambassador for the reef and a role model for women in coral reef science."

Van Oppen said it's a shame she will not be able to see the long-term impacts of their research. "But I will work extra hard to try and make it a success in her honour," she said.

"Ruth was not only a shining star in coral research, but an indomitable spirit in every aspect of life," said Judy Lemus, interim director the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and friend of Gates.

"Her enthusiasm was contagious, and she absolutely loved what she did. Her loss will be felt deeply within our own community and throughout the broader research community."

Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program, said Gates' death is a loss for the entire scientific community.

"Ruth was really a force of nature, I mean she was just an amazingly productive scientist, one of the brightest, most inquisitive minds that we had in the whole field of coral reef science. Her energy was boundless," Eakin said.

Gates' research won the support of philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, allowing her to expand, develop and test her theories in a lab on Oahu's Coconut Island.

"Ruth Gates realised before most others that for corals to survive climate change, their adaptation to warming waters will have to be assisted," said Lauren Kickham, director of product management at Paul G. Allen Philanthropies.

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