Luiz Rocha stands atop a boat in the Maldives wearing a black scuba diving outfit, a rebreather and goggles, and trunks.

Luiz Rocha, PhD, is an expert in deep coral reefs and advocates for their protection in areas around the globe. (Gayle Laird © 2023 California Academy of Sciences)


San Francisco, CA (February 8, 2024) – California Academy of Sciences Ichthyology Chair Luiz Rocha has been elected to the 2024 class of The Explorers Club 50 (EC50): Fifty People Changing the World that the World Needs to Know About, the Academy announced.

Every year the EC50 recognizes 50 extraordinary people who are doing remarkable work to promote science and exploration. The program was established to reflect the great diversity of individuals on the cutting edge of exploration and to help amplify the voices of these trailblazers.

Rocha is the Academy’s Follett Chair of Ichthyology and co-director of the Academy’s Hope For Reefs Initiative, which aims to reverse the decline of Earth’s coral reefs by the end of this decade. He has spent over 6,000 hours studying fishes underwater and published extensively about the evolution, conservation, taxonomy, and community ecology of coral reef fishes. His work has been featured in several popular media outlets—including Nature, WIRED, The New York Times, and The Atlantic—and supports conservation efforts across the globe.

Rocha’s current research explores little-known deep coral reefs in the “twilight zone” (between 60 and 150 meters in depth) using technical rebreather diving, describing little-known fauna from those depths and advocating for their protection. He recently co-authored a cover story for Nature, highlighting the extent of plastic pollution on coral reefs and its relationship to marine protected areas, ocean depth, and fishing activities. He has also contributed to a comprehensive field guide to Brazilian reef fishes, documenting nearly 450 different species to support biodiversity research and conservation efforts in South America. In 2021, Rocha won a Rolex Award for Enterprise for his extensive research and advocacy efforts.

Read more about Luiz Rocha’s Explorers Club 50 nomination.

“I am honored to be nominated to the fourth class of the Explorers Club 50, joining a community of incredible visionaries, explorers, and scientists,” said Rocha, who joined the Academy in 2011. “My desire to study deep reef fishes and the ocean has always been driven by curiosity and the need to explore. When we talk about the ocean, the deeper you go, the more interesting the exploration becomes. With support and inspiration from the EC50 community, I’m excited to continue my work diving and advocating for deep coral reefs.”

Now in its fourth year, the collective EC50 community has expanded to more than 200 visionary explorers, representing over 51 countries. Other EC50 honorees this year include “the germinator” who parachutes into the Amazon with thousands of saplings strapped to his body; a Ukrainian museum curator in a race to preserve the heritage of his people; an Indigenous master weaver preserving traditional textile techniques; the first ever double above-knee amputee to summit Everest; a biochemist at the forefront of marine conservation who doubles as a professional surfer; and a blind acoustic engineer capturing the essence of nature through sound.

The entire EC50 class of 2024 can be seen here.

“With the EC50, The Explorers Club has expanded the definition of an explorer, moving beyond the archetypal adventurer to include those who interpret the world through art, music, dance, and culinary expression,” said Richard Wiese, President Emeritus of The Explorers Club. “Our focus is to nurture the next generation of explorers and we are dedicated to creating an environment that fosters curiosity, boldness, and innovation. The torch of exploration we pass on is a symbol of hope and guidance for those destined to redefine the known boundaries of our world.

The idea for the EC50 was conceived of in July 2020 to recognize that many of the greatest contributions to modern exploration are coming from all corners of science, art, and culture—perspectives that are historically underrepresented in science and field research.

As members of the 2024 class, EC50 winners receive complimentary Explorers Club membership for three years, access to the world’s preeminent network of explorers, features in a special issue of The Explorers Journal, global lecture opportunities, and more.

The program is supported by Rolex as part of its Perpetual Planet initiative.

About The Explorers Club:

Since its inception in 1904, members of Club have traversed the earth, seas, skies, and even the moon, on expeditions. Members of The Explorers Club have been the first humans to the North Pole, South Pole, the summit of Mount Everest, the deepest point in the ocean, and the surface of the moon. For over 100 years, the club has been dedicated to the advancement of field research, scientific exploration and resource conservation. Notable members include Teddy Roosevelt, Neil Armstrong, Jane Goodall, Edmund Hillary, John Glenn, Sally Ride and Bob Ballard.

About the California Academy of Sciences:

The California Academy of Sciences is a renowned scientific and educational institution with a mission to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it is home to a world-class aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, as well as innovative programs in biodiversity science, environmental learning, and collaborative engagement—all under one living roof. Museum hours are 9:30 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11:00 am – 5:00 pm on Sunday. Admission includes all exhibits, programs, and shows. For daily ticket prices, please visit or call (415) 379-8000 for more information.

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