tagged w/ Coral Reefs
Coral reefs off the southeast coast of Taiwan have turned black with disease possibly due to sewage discharge, threatening fragile undersea ecosystems and tourism, a study released Friday said.
The discovery on a problem long suspected but seldom documented shows that coral is suffering widely in waters up to five meters (16.4 feet) deep and 300 meters offshore from two outlying islands, said researcher Chen Chao-lun of Taiwan's state-funded Academia Sinica.
"This is a large distribution and we had no previous information," said Chen, whose began doing research with local environmental groups in 2007. "If you snorkel, you'll see it's black. If it's all black, there won't be too many tourists."
Coral reefs, delicate undersea structures resembling rocky gardens made by tiny animals called coral polyps, are important nurseries and shelters for fish and other sea life.
They also protect coastlines, provide a critical source of food for millions of people and are potential storehouses of medicines.
Taiwan's study did not pinpoint a cause for the diseased coral, but untreated sewage may a factor, Chen said.
On Green Island, a tourism hotspot and one the sites surrounded by diseased coral, garbage and excrement are dumped into the surrounding azure waters while reefs are often plundered by coral-robbing tourists, officials and long-time divers say.
The Taiwan researchers have sent their report to the government and plan to check for problems in other offshore areas known to support coral, Chen said.
When will we learn?Coral reefs off the southeast coast of Taiwan have turned black with disease possibly... more
Largest Marine Reserve Declared; Home to Mariana Trench
Dina Cappiello in Washington, D.C.
January 6, 2009
The home of a giant land crab, a sunken island ringed by pink-colored coral, and equatorial waters teeming with sharks and other predators have been designated national marine monuments by U.S. President George W. Bush in the largest marine conservation effort in history. (See photos.)
The three areas—totaling some 195,274 square miles (505,757 square kilometers)—include the Mariana Trench and the waters and corals surrounding three uninhabited islands in the Northern Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll in American Samoa, and seven islands strung along the equator in the central Pacific Ocean.
"We should be very happy because it's the largest marine area ever protected," said Enric Sala, a marine ecologist and National Geographic fellow and emerging explorer. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)
"We don't need more research to know that more of these remote intact places need to be protected," said Sala, who has helped conduct some of the few scientific surveys in the remote central Pacific islands, particularly in the pristine Kingman Reef.
"This is the only chance we have left to protect parts of the ocean that are still natural."
Palmyra Atoll, a region included in the monument, and Kingman Reef are among the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on earth, according to Suzanne Case, Hawaii director of the nonprofit the Nature Conservancy.
"At a time when positive news about our seas is rare, the designation of three new marine national monuments in the Pacific is a landmark to be celebrated," she added.
The areas harbor the highest fish biomass in the Pacific and are one of the few places still dominated by sharks and other predators, Case said in an email.
Each location harbors unique species—such as a bird that incubates its eggs in the heat of underwater volcanoes—and some of the rarest geological formations on Earth, including a sulfur pool. The only other known pool exists on Jupiter's moon Io.
All will be protected as national monuments—the same status afforded to statues and cultural sites—under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The law allows the government to immediately phase out commercial fishing and other extractive uses.
It will be the second time Bush has used the law to protect marine resources.
Two years ago, the president made a huge swath of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument, barring fishing, oil and gas extraction, and tourism from its waters and coral reefs. At the time, that area was the largest conservation area in the world.
The three areas to be designated Tuesday are larger, though the decisions came with some opposition.
Northern Mariana Islands government officials and indigenous communities, for instance, initially objected to the monument designation, citing concerns about sovereignty, fishing, and mineral exploration.
Recreational fishing, tourism, and scientific research with a federal permit could still occur inside the three areas under the new law. The designations will not conflict with U.S. military activities or freedom of navigation, White House officials said.
The decisions also fell short in size and scope of what conservationists, including Sala, had hoped for.
"The bottom line is that less than a tenth of one percent of the ocean is protected," Sala said, versus 12 percent of land area locked up in reserves.
Reserves are important conservation strategies, Sala said, in that pristine environments can be thought of "savings accounts."
That's because protecting large areas allows marine life to flourish and eventually spill over into neighboring ecosystems, constantly replenishing the seas.
Christine Dell'Amore of National Geographic News contributed to this report.Largest Marine Reserve Declared; Home to Mariana Trench Dina Cappiello in Washington,... more
"A widespread and severe coral bleaching episode is predicted to cause immense damage to some of the world’s most important marine environments over the next few months.
A report from the US Government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts severe bleaching for parts of the Coral Sea, which lies adjacent to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the Coral Triangle, a 5.4 million square kilometre expanse of ocean in the Indo-Pacific which is considered the centre of the world’s marine life.
“This forecast bleaching episode will be caused by increased water temperatures and is the kind of event we can expect on a regular basis if average global temperatures rise above 2 degrees,” said Richard Leck, Climate Change Strategy Leader for WWF’s Coral Triangle Program.
The bleaching, predicted to occur between now and February, could have a devastating impact on coral reef ecosystems, killing coral and destroying food chains. There would be severe impacts for communities in Australia and the region, who depend on the oceans for their livelihoods."
Full article at link."A widespread and severe coral bleaching episode is predicted to cause immense... more
A rising carbonic acid level means a more acidic ocean.
And a more acidic ocean is bad news for coral and other sea creatures, which form their shells from calcium carbonate they extract from seawater. The more acidic the water, the more difficult it is to build the shells in the first place—as well as keeping them from dissolving.
To probe how corals are faring, marine biologist Glenn De'ath and colleagues at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, Queensland, examined Porites coral samples stretching as far back as 1572. Because Porites lay down annual layers—like tree rings—changing environmental conditions are etched into their skeletons.
The record has not been good in recent years: Since 1990 coral have been extending and thickening by less and less each year. "The data suggest that such a severe and sudden decline in calcification is unprecedented in at least the past 400 years," the researchers wrote.
(More in full article above).A rising carbonic acid level means a more acidic ocean. And a more acidic ocean is... more
"Scientists have reported a rapid recovery in some of the coral reefs that were damaged by the Indian Ocean tsunami four years ago. It had been feared that some of the reefs off the coast of Indonesia could take a decade to recover.
The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found evidence of rapid growth of young corals in badly-hit areas. A spokesman said reefs damaged before the tsunami were also recovering.
Some communities were abandoning destructive fishing techniques and even transplanting corals into damaged areas, the WCS said. "This is a great story of ecosystem resilience and recovery," said Stuart Campbell, co-ordinator of the WCS's Indonesia Marine Program. "These findings provide new insights into coral recovery processes that can help us manage coral reefs in the face of climate change."
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a reef expert from the University of Queensland in Australia who did not take part in the study, said the findings were not surprising since corals typically recovered if not affected by fishing and coastal development.
"We are seeing similar things around the southern Great Barrier Reef where reefs that experience major catastrophe can bounce back quite quickly," the scientist told the Associated Press.""Scientists have reported a rapid recovery in some of the coral reefs that were... more
Southeast Asia's tsunami-ravaged coral reefs have bounced back with surprising speed, according to a study released Friday, four years after the deadly waves hit.Southeast Asia's tsunami-ravaged coral reefs have bounced back with surprising... more
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has released a report saying the world has lost nearly one-fifth of its coral reefs. Climate change, overfishing, pollution, and invasive species are all partly to blame. The report also says coral reefs could be wiped out in 30-40 years.The International Union for Conservation of Nature has released a report saying the... more
"Reef balls" are hollow structures made of the cremated remains of the deceased mixed with concrete. After a ceremony the balls are lowered into the oceans where sea life soon begins to grip onto them and create a living breathing reef.
It is thought that after a few months you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a normal reef and one helped along into existence by a reef ball. Let it be known, that when I die, this is how I'd like to be buried. How about you?"Reef balls" are hollow structures made of the cremated remains of the... more
By now, both candidates agree that global warming is a reality but they don't necessarily agree on what to do about it. In our Collective Journalism special "U.S.: Killing the Earth?" we look at the affect climate change has on the environment and on the Presidential election. We investigate alternative energy sources, the growing green collar job sector, consequences of dramatic climate change and potential solutions to the crisis.
This special features the work of Collective Journalism contributors around the country, from Missouri to California, from Florida to Minnesota.
Collective Journalism, Current's citizen journalism program, works by combining perspectives from contributors like you around the world. All month until Election Day, CJ will be airing special investigations into the most important issues of this election.By now, both candidates agree that global warming is a reality but they don't... more
Australia asked to create a park in the Coral Sea to protect the environment and WWII history. If it passes this will be the largest piece of protected coral sea life on the planet!!!!!!!Australia asked to create a park in the Coral Sea to protect the environment and WWII... more
Climate change is depriving coral reefs across the globe of the building materials used to make their shells. Current plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions may not be enough to fix the problem, according to new research.
The daily life of corals is a constant battle against erosion. The reef builders patch up holes in their shells, left by nibbling sea creatures, using a mineral called calcium carbonate. To keep up with repairs, corals in the wild usually require three times as much of the mineral as sheltered corals grown in laboratories.
Before the industrial revolution, says Ken Caldeira of Stanford University, 98% of all corals lived in waters above the required calcium carbonate threshold.
But the situation is changing, according to Caldeira, who has built a model to study how greenhouse gas emissions tinker with the chemistry of open water oceans.
Oceans are becoming saturated with Co2 and corals are suffering for it. This is important because corals play a very important role in the health of our oceans, which in turn plays a very important role in the health of the web of life in our oceans, which then plays a vital role in our own health. Mitigating carbon emissions is now key: how many times does it have to be said?
The impasse between what politicians in this country want and what this world now needs is vast and bringing dangerous consequences to us. We can no longer afford to ignore scientific warnings regarding the deterioration of our oceans, and we cannot wait until politicians see it as politically expedient to do something or until we have passed the point of no return.
Besides carbon mitigation and freezing emissions, I believe we need a major global tree planting initiative to be undertaken. Planting trees in areas of great deforestation can help to return many of the carbon sinks that have been lost to us from illegal logging practices and overconsumption. This would then hopefully help to balance the amount of Co2 in the atmosphere instead of most of it being soaked up by oceans. This is a human made catastrophe and only humans can reverse it. Hopefully, it is not too late.Climate change is depriving coral reefs across the globe of the building materials... more
THE world's reefs, including Australia's Great Barrier Reef, will be dead within 30 years unless human activity changes quickly, a leading researcher says.
Addressing the 11th international River symposium in Brisbane, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said it was crunch time for the world's reefs.
Let's say we delay another 10 years on having stern actions on emissions at a global level, we will not have coral reefs in about 30 to 50 years, he said.
Professor Hoegh-Guldberg, from the Centre for Marine Studies at the University of Queensland, said rising CO2 levels and melting ice caps meant the ocean was becoming uninhabitable for reefs.
This worldwide change in climatic conditions was in addition to land-based pollution spilling from Queensland's coastal river systems, a symposium session into the impacts of river systems on the reef was told.
We're rapidly rising to (CO2) levels which will be unsustainable for reefs in the very near future, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
If you ask the question, `Will we have coral reefs in 30 years' time?', I would say at the current rate of change and what we're doing to them, we won't. But it's all up to us right now.
We're at the fork in the road. If we take one road - the one we're on right now - we won't have coral reefs.
If we make some very, very, very aggressive actions, if we reform how we do things, both at the global and local level, we'll have a really good chance of bringing coral reefs through in some shape or form, which will still provide the basis for the 100 million people that they support.
He said ice core samples showed CO2 levels were the highest for at least a million years, possibly 20 million years.
That changes the circumstances under which corals form their skeletons, so they become less vibrant, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
Then if you keep hitting them with things like bleaching events, they just don't bounce back as much.
So we're changing essentially the rules under which biology is trying to operate, and that's the problem.
He also warned that an increasing incidence of coral bleaching was a growing threat.
If we have them (bleaching events) now every four to five years, we're getting to a point where reefs no longer have time to recover.
The impact on Queensland's $6 billion-a-year earnings from reef-based tourism would be enormous, he said.
So we might have an industry that's half the size, but it certainly won't have the pull that it does today, he said.
This is not natural.THE world's reefs, including Australia's Great Barrier Reef, will be dead... more
A proposal by U.S. President George W. Bush could give national-monument status to some of the world's most remote and pristine Pacific islands and their waters, potentially transforming them into the largest protected marine reserve on the planet.
But its success will hinge on whether the proposed ocean sanctuaries in the western and central Pacific are granted full-protection status, scientists warn.
That would prohibit potentially disruptive activities such as oil and gas drilling, fishing, and mineral extraction.
The central Pacific islands—which would include Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Jarvis and Howland Islands—could potentially cover about 776,000 square miles (2 million square kilometers) of protected area.
The western proposed reserve, comprising the Northern Mariana Islands, could cover as much as 115,000 square miles (297,000 square kilometers). It would include parts of the Mariana Trench, the deepest location on Earth's surface, along with coral reef islands called atolls. (See video of the islands.)
Because the President has exclusive power to protect U.S. resources, conservationists expect the new proposal will become law.
The waters of the central Pacific islands are home to some of the best preserved coral ecosystems in the world, Sala said.
Any one of the central Pacific islands in the proposed sanctuary contains five times as many coral species as the entire Florida Keys, as well as hundreds of fish species; dozens of species of seabirds; and numerous whale, dolphin, and sea turtle species.
A proposal by U.S. President George W. Bush could give national-monument status to... more
To keep coral reefs from being eaten away by increasingly acidic oceans, humans need to limit the amount of climate-warming greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, a panel of marine scientists said on Wednesday.
"The most logical and critical action to address the impacts of ocean acidification on coral reefs is to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration," the scientists said in a document called the Honolulu Declaration, for release at a U.S. conference on coral reefs in Hawaii.
Ocean acidification is another threat to corals caused by global warming, along with rising sea levels, higher sea surface temperatures and coral bleaching, the scientists said.
Coral reefs are a "sentinel ecosystem," a sign that the environment is changing, said one of the experts, Billy Causey of the U.S. National Marine Sanctuary Program.
"Although ocean acidification is affecting the health of our oceans, the same thing -- increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -- is going to in fact be affecting terrestrial environments also," Causey said by telephone from Hawaii.
Coral reefs offer economic and environmental benefits to millions of people, including coastal protection from waves and storms and as sources of food, pharmaceuticals, jobs and revenue, the declaration said.
But corals are increasingly threatened by warming sea surface temperatures as well as ocean acidification.
Oceans are getting more acidic because they have been absorbing some 525 billion tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide over the last two centuries, about one-third of all human-generated carbon dioxide for that period.
The carbon dioxide combines with sea water to form carbonic acid.
Marine researchers have long recognized acidification in deep ocean water far from land, but a study published this year in the journal Science found this same damaging phenomenon on the Pacific North American continental shelf from Mexico to Canada, and quite likely elsewhere around the globe.
The water became so corrosive that it started dissolving the shells and skeletons of starfish, clams and corals.
Stabilizing carbon dioxide emissions was the Honolulu Declaration's top long-term recommendation. The key short-term recommendation was to nurture coral reefs that seem to have natural resilience against acidification.
This could be adopted immediately by managers of protected marine areas, Causey said.
The Honolulu Declaration will be presented to the United Nations and to other global, regional and national forums.
To keep coral reefs from being eaten away by increasingly acidic oceans, humans need... more
In a remote fishing village in the Philippine archipelago, coastal fishers responded to falling fish stocks by working harder to catch them. The combination of dynamite, longer workdays, and more advanced gear caused stocks to fall faster. On the edge of crisis, this small community decided to create a no-take marine sanctuary on 10% of its coral-reef fishing grounds. This initiative sparked a renaissance of not only their fishery, but also their cherished way of life.
Apo Island provides a relatively simple but very real case study for exploring how EcoTipping Points work in practice. Apo is a small island (78 hectares), 9 kilometers from the coast of Negros in the Philippine archipelago. The island has 145 households and a resident population of 710 people. Almost all the men on the island are fishermen. The main fishing grounds are in the area surrounding the island to a distance of roughly 500 meters, an area with extensive coral reefs and reaching a water depth of about 60 meters. Fishermen use small, paddle-driven outrigger canoes, though a few fishermen (particularly younger ones) have outboard motors on their canoes. The main fishing methods are hook and line, gill nets, and bamboo fish traps.
Apo Island’s “negative tip” started about forty years ago. Before then, there was a stable fishery with ample harvest to support fishermen and their families. During the years following World War II the growing human population and increasing fishing pressure made the fishery increasingly vulnerable to unsustainable fishing. The “negative tip” came with the introduction of four destructive fishing methods to the Philippines:
* Dynamite fishing, which started with explosives left over from World War II and gained momentum by the 1960s;
* Muro-ami (from Japan). Fish are chased into nets by pounding on coral with rocks.
* Cyanide, introduced during the 1970s for the aquarium fish trade. Aquarium fish are no longer collected in this region, but cyanide remained.
* Small-mesh nets. Worldwide marketing of newly developed nylon nets brought small-mesh beach seines and other small-mesh nets to the region in the 1970s.
Dynamite, cyanide, muro-ami, and small-mesh nets are more effective than traditional Filipino fishing methods, but they are seriously detrimental to the sustainability of the fishery. Not only do they make overfishing and immature fish harvesting easier, they also damage fishing habitat. These fishing methods have been illegal since regulations were imposed in the early 1980s. The Philippine Coast Guard and National Police are responsible for enforcing fishing regulations, but their vast areas of jurisdiction have made it virtually impossible for these agencies to stop destructive fishing.
In a remote fishing village in the Philippine archipelago, coastal fishers responded... more
The cement that buttresses coral reefs, giving them the strength to withstand crashing waves and other onslaughts, may stop forming as oceans acidify under increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Researchers have already predicted that a more acidic ocean will make it more difficult for corals to build their calcium carbonate skeletons. The new finding suggests that the reef's broader structure may also suffer because a lower pH reduces the formation of the reef's cement binder. The binder is made from calcium carbonate that precipitates out of ocean water when it rushes through the pores of coral skeletons.
"Until now, we've mostly addressed acidification in terms of what it does to the living organism," said study author Joan Kleypas of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
"Here we're finding that the reef structure itself can certainly feel the effect of ocean acidification, even if the biology somehow finds a way to cope with acidification. This is mainly an inorganic process, so we're looking at something that will happen regardless of what the biology does."
The cement that buttresses coral reefs, giving them the strength to withstand crashing... more
"Coral reefs in the United States and the Caribbean may be under siege—from a surprising source half a world away.
Scientists say tons of dust from Africa's arid Sahara and Sahel regions could be polluting oceans in the Caribbean and southeastern U.S.
The dusty clouds carry contaminants like metals, pesticides and microorganisms—potentially disastrous news for coral reefs and other marine animals already stressed by warming waters.
"The pesticides associated with African dust are primarily insecticides. These can affect the coral host directly," Negri said.
Garrison believes that while certain contaminants may be linked to specific areas, such as the African pesticides, no one region is entirely to blame for air-quality issues.
"We're all responsible," she said. "We all have to watch what we're putting into the air."
[eXcERpTs] "Coral reefs in the United States and the Caribbean may be under... more
Almost one third of all the coral species that build reefs could be heading for extinction, according to a new comprehensive study published today, which showed that the double assault of climate change and human exploitation could wipe out 231 species of the atoll-building polyps.
Coral reefs are a vital part of the ocean ecosystem, providing a habitat for more than a quarter of all marine species, and generating an income for an estimated 200 million people.
Drs Kent Carpenter and Suzanne Livingstone, of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), report in the journal Science that they and 37 other scientists from 14 nations have just completed their detailed study of the conservation status of the creatures that grow imperceptibly, stay below the waterline and leave their skeletons as stone monuments.
In total, there could be 1,400 species of hard coral, and more than 840 that form the living structures that endure as reefs. Carpenter - based at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia - and his colleagues decided that they knew too little about 141 of these to form a judgment. But of the remaining 704, they found that 231 could be classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable enough to be placed on the IUCN's "red list" of threatened species.
Before the heat waves that "bleached" or killed corals in the tropical oceans in 1998, only 13 species would have been included in the threatened or vulnerable categories, they report.
"The results of this study are very disconcerting," Carpenter told the International Coral Reef Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "When corals die off, so do the other plants and animals that depend on coral reefs for food and shelter, and this can lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems."
Among the threatened species are some of the most attractive and iconic animals, the acroporid or staghorn corals. These creatures prefer shallow waters, and grow relatively quickly, branching to provide a submarine forest canopy that shelters smaller sea creatures. But because their habitat is shallow, they are particularly vulnerable to lethal episodes of ocean warming, which affect surface layers first.
They are also vulnerable to infectious disease and predation by the crown of thorns starfish, and because they are brittle, the branching "antlers" are easily broken by human interference.
Coral reefs provide a refuge for a major proportion of marine life. "All you have to do is go into a reef in the Pacific to get a good sense of that," Carpenter said. "There can be hundreds of fish around one coral clump the size of a table. They rely on the branches to hide in when a predator approaches, which makes them virtually impossible to feed on."
Reefs also provide livelihood and protection for humans. They are a buffer that absorbs the pounding of the ocean and prevent coastal erosion, shelter rich fisheries and offer incomes from tourism. Their loss would be catastrophic for hundreds of millions of people.
Shallow water corals live in a symbiotic relationship with algae, but this relationship tends to break down when the seas become too warm. Coral reefs could bounce back from such occasional "bleaching" events, but the combined onslaught of global warming, the increasing acidity of the oceans, pollution and human exploitation could finally overwhelm the most vulnerable species. The result could be compared with the catastrophe 65m years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs.
"Everybody knows about the cretaceous-tertiary boundary when all the dinosaurs went extinct," said Carpenter. "But what people don't know is that 40% of all the corals went extinct at the same time, and an even higher percentage of those were the reef-building ones. These conditions that existed in geological times could be mimicked by what is happening on Earth today."Almost one third of all the coral species that build reefs could be heading for... more