Charles Birkeland earned his PhD at the University of Washington in Seattle under the guidance of the late Robert T. Paine. Even in the cold waters of Puget Sound, he studied the ecology of an octocoral, a sea pen that was the prey of seven species of predators. In 1970, he went to Panamá for a post-doc at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and has continued to do research on coral reefs continuously for the next 48 years. From 1975 to 2000 he was a professor at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory and from 2000 to 2010 at the Department of Biology in the University of Hawaii. He retired in 2010, but has remained active. The has coauthored three books (Acanthaster planci: major management problem of coral reefs, Life and death of coral reefs, and Coral reefs in the Anthropocene. His research interests include using life history traits of reef fishes in determining the best management policies of fisheries, the role of nutrients in determining the characteristics of reef communities, and the evolutionary history of corals.