Ocean Currents » coral reef http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 25 Apr 2017 13:47:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Carbon Dioxide Threatens the Ocean’s Speed Bumps http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/10/carbon-dioxide-threatens-the-oceans-speed-bumps/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/10/carbon-dioxide-threatens-the-oceans-speed-bumps/#comments Thu, 10 Nov 2016 14:30:50 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13301

You may have heard coral reefs called “the rainforests of the sea,” but did you know they could also be called the “speed bumps of the ocean?” Not only do coral reefs host an estimated 25% of ocean species, but they also slow down and shrink waves that approach land. This keeps hundreds of millions of people safe and dry around the world. At the same time, coral reefs also offer these coastal dwellers many opportunities—for nutrition, their livelihoods and income based on coral reef-area fishing or tourism.

Carbon dioxide, primarily stemming from fossil fuel burning, is poised to change all that. It’s causing the ocean to acidify, which slows the growth and reproduction of coral reefs, and it’s indirectly causing the ocean and atmosphere to heat up. Together, ocean acidification and warming are helping break down the physical structure of coral reefs, taking away their ability to serve as speed bumps that protect coastal communities from tropical storms and tsunamis.

In a new study, my colleagues and I compiled data on human dependence on coral reefs, warming and acidification to see where we are at greatest risk from carbon dioxide-caused changes. Where ocean acidification and warming will worsen most quickly, reefs are expected to suffer most from this one-two punch. That means people in the Coral Triangle countries of Southeast Asia and the Great Barrier Reef region will experience the loss of coral reef benefits most strongly.

Unfortunately, we don’t have enough research and monitoring in these regions at greatest risk. The South Pacific’s coral reefs border many isolated islands and atolls, so studying conditions across the region is challenging. But investing there is worthwhile—increased research and monitoring in the South Pacific could uncover places where refuges exist for corals from the steady increase of acidification and heat. Naturally occurring safe spaces could provide places for corals to hide, and from there they could send out larvae to “reseed” the oceans when conditions improve in the future.

Many of the coastal communities who face greatest risk from losing coral reefs are not the ones who contribute most to worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. It’s inspiring that the ocean is now being considered in global negotiations about emissions—recall that last year’s Paris Agreement specifically names “the ocean,” a first for a global agreement. Tomorrow, at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Marrakech, where international leaders are meeting to continue international progress on climate, the Ocean and Climate Forum official side event will focus on how we can integrate ocean and climate action into international agreements.

One such small way to encourage action on ocean acidification is the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification. Nations who join the Alliance are pledging to begin or continue efforts to address ocean acidification, including advancing scientific understanding and expanding public awareness, and to share their knowledge with other members of the Alliance as the international community searches for solutions. Speed on this front will be good news for the “speed bumps of the sea.”

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Restoring Endangered Coral Reefs http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/28/restoring-endangered-coral-reefs-2/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/28/restoring-endangered-coral-reefs-2/#comments Thu, 28 Jul 2016 15:19:31 +0000 Julia Roberson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12530

With mass coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef making headlines all over the world this summer, we wanted to check in with Tripp Funderburk of Coral Restoration Foundation to learn how corals in our part of the ocean are faring.

First, what is the big deal about coral reefs?  

Coral reefs are the rainforests of the sea. They provide three-dimensional habitat for an astonishing variety of plants and animals. While they occupy less than one percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs support more than 25% of all marine life. They also shelter shorelines from storms and erosion, and provide food and jobs for coastal communities dependent on tourism and fishing.

How are coral reefs in the United States and the Caribbean faring? 

Stressors such as climate change, ocean acidification, diseases, overfishing, sedimentation, and pollution threaten coral reefs around the world.  Over the last 40 years, coral reefs around Florida and throughout the Caribbean have become degraded due to a multitude of these and other stressors, but the largest decline occurred after the outbreak of White Band Disease in the late 1970s and the die-off of the long-spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum) due to an unknown pathogen in 1983. NOAA has found that elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (Acropora cervicornis), two previously dominant, reef-building corals, have declined between 92-97% since the 1970s, and both are now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Without these fast-growing, keystone species, Caribbean coral reefs are deteriorating, and the fisheries, wave-protection, and tourism generated by healthy reefs are at risk.

Can these corals be saved? 

We’re working on that at Coral Restoration Foundation, here in Key Largo, Florida. We are involved in education, research and monitoring, as well as active reef restoration projects. For example, in our coral tree nurseries, we grow elkhorn, staghorn and other corals and are able to outplant them back onto degraded reefs. Our nurseries serve as an ark to preserve the genetic diversity of endangered corals and re-establish healthy coral thickets that are capable of sexual reproduction.

Is it working? 

Coral Restoration Foundation currently has five coral tree nurseries in Florida that house more than 40,000 corals. In 2015 alone, more than 22,000 corals were outplanted throughout the Florida Keys with the help of volunteer divers. This kind of project, which NOAA calls “population enhancement” or “restocking,”  is part of the Recovery Plan released by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service last year.

The structure of the Florida Reef Tract still exists, but the live coral cover and three-dimensional habitat that elkhorn and staghorn provide is declining. Because Acropora colonies are now scarcer, they may be too far apart for high fertilization success during spawning events.  Our organization is working to fill in these gaps by creating healthy thickets of genetically diverse coral that can sexually reproduce and encourage natural recovery. We have found great success with our methods and are continuously monitoring to track the health of our outplanted colonies.

How can I get involved? 

The Recovery Plan for elkhorn and staghorn corals provides a blueprint for restoring degraded reefs, but it won’t be implemented without funding and support from Congress, the Administration, and the public. Coral Restoration Foundation and Ocean Conservancy are working together to create the support and political will to implement the actions outlined in the Recovery Plan. If you would like to join our effort to support the Recovery Plan or learn more about our restoration efforts, visit coralrestoration.org or email info@coralrestoration.org.

Coral Restoration Foundation is a nonprofit ocean conservation organization working to restore coral reefs, educating others on the importance of our oceans, and using science to further research and monitoring techniques.

Tripp Funderburk is the Director of Policy for the Coral Restoration Foundation.  Mr. Funderburk previously worked in government relations with the Livingston Group and the Washington Group, and served as a legislative assistant for Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston.

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Corals are Like… What?! http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/25/corals-are-like-what/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/25/corals-are-like-what/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2016 13:30:33 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12444

This week we’re celebrating all things coral! It’s no secret that coral reefs are spectacular ecosystems, but we wanted to do a deep dive into what exactly makes corals so special. Check out nine ways corals are even cooler than you thought:

1)  Corals are like speed bumps. They slow down waves and lessen wave energy. This protects coastlines from hurricanes, cyclones and tsunamis. Coral reefs protect the shoreline in 81 countries around the world, sheltering the 200 million people living along those coasts.

2)  Corals are like nurseries. They provide homes and hiding places for marine animals large and small. An estimated 25% of all fish species call reefs home, and even more fish species spend part of their young lives there. Losing reefs to ocean warming or acidification costs animals their homes.

3) Corals are like history books. Corals’ hard calcium carbonate skeletons contain bands, like tree rings, that record environmental changes in temperature, water chemistry and sediment. These records help scientists reconstruct what past ages were like before humans kept records.

4) Corals are like tropical rainforests. Both corals and tropical rainforests support an incredible array of life. Both are also under stress from human activities. Rising temperatures, heavy fishing (hunting) pressure and physical destruction are just some of the human-caused problems hurting both corals and rainforests.

5) Corals are like Venus flytraps. Some corals can eat passing plankton by grabbing them from the ocean and ingesting them. This provides a source of fatty acids for corals, and it is thought to help corals resist bleaching and other stresses.

6) Corals are like solar panels. Coral animals contain “symbionts,” which are small cells that photosynthesize, or harvest the sun’s energy, and pass some of it along to the coral in exchange for housing.

7) Corals are like flowers. To reproduce, most corals release gametes, or eggs and sperm, into the water. This is similar to how flowers release pollen (gametes) into the wind. Both corals and flowers decide when to reproduce based on temperature and lighting.

8) Corals are like medicine cabinets. Coral reefs and the animals that live around them have many chemical defenses to drive away predators. These chemical compounds could be the inspiration for future medicines, nutritional supplements, pesticides and more.

9) Corals are like rock quarries. Broken bits of coral create silt and sand that forms seafloor and sandy beaches in many tropical locations. Some coral breakdown is normal, like when parrotfish crunch off bites of coral to digest the living coral tissue, and spit out or excrete the hard skeleton crumbs. Other breakdown isn’t normal, such as the physical and chemical breakdown of coral by ocean acidification, dynamite fishing, ship strikes or other human-caused stress.


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Tackling Ocean Acidification in Florida http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/06/tackling-ocean-acidification-in-florida/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/06/tackling-ocean-acidification-in-florida/#comments Wed, 06 Jul 2016 14:27:36 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12385

As the state representative for the Florida Keys and South Miami-Dade County, there are few things more important to our well-being than the health of our unique marine environment. We are home to the Everglades, the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world and the only living barrier reef in the continental United States. Since I took office, I have made it a priority to do everything I can to help raise awareness about our water issues in Tallahassee and we’ve made great progress in the last four years when it comes to improving water quality.

Despite this progress, there are still many stressors facing Florida’s oceans and ocean acidification (OA) is a particularly significant threat. Its impacts on our marine ecosystems are less visible so it has not been as widely discussed as other environmental threats, but that is starting to change, and I am excited to help bring further awareness to this issue. Side effects of acidification like decreases in coral reproduction, growth and calcification as well as slower shellfish growth mean that this is not an issue we can afford to ignore. Already, other fisheries across the country are seeing serious economic impacts from OA and if it continues unchecked, the impacts to Florida businesses and residents could be equally devastating.

I was first introduced to this issue by fellow lawmakers in Washington who have been aggressively researching OA after the Northwest lost 75% of their oyster larvae due to the increasing acidity levels. In the Florida Keys, our two biggest economic drivers are tourism and commercial/recreational fishing, so it is up to us to proactively start addressing the impacts of OA before our fisheries and tourism industries are adversely impacted. That’s why I was extremely excited to participate in a stakeholder workshop on this issue with the Ocean Conservancy and the University of Miami. The workshop provided an incredible opportunity for stakeholders on all sides of this issue to get together and discuss not just the science of OA but what policy decisions and approaches we can take moving forward to try and mitigate the risks to Florida’s oceans.

In order to move forward on this issue, we need to have a broad coalition of support and input and I believe that this workshop was a wonderful step in raising awareness and creating a framework for collaboration between stakeholders. Our waterways and reefs are our lifeblood. It is that collaboration and coordination among different groups that will help us drive this issue forward at the state level, find meaningful ways to combat the effects of ocean acidification, and protect the many industries that depend on a healthy marine environment.

Representative Holly Raschein is a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing the 120th District, which includes Monroe County and southern Miami-Dade County, since 2012.

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How Ocean Acidification Impacts Florida’s Ecosystems http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/15/how-ocean-acidification-impacts-floridas-ecosystems/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/15/how-ocean-acidification-impacts-floridas-ecosystems/#comments Wed, 15 Jun 2016 20:43:25 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12310

Reef-building corals find refuge from climate change in mangrove habitats. Photo credit: Caroline Rogers, USGS.

Dr. Kimberly Yates will be a panelist at an ocean acidification roundtable we are hosting in Miami this week. There, she will join other scientists, Florida elected officials and local businesspeople in discussing what ocean acidification has in store for Florida’s marine life and its coastal communities. Follow the meeting on Twitter via #FL_OA on Friday, June 17!

OC: Your research focuses on several marine habitats in Florida: coral reefs, estuaries and mangroves. How are they coping with ocean acidification?

Dr. Yates: Most of what we know about how ocean acidification is affecting these environments comes from experimental research. We know some marine organisms will be negatively impacted, and some may benefit. For example, some species that form their skeletons and shells from minerals made of calcium carbonate, like corals and some shellfish, are negatively impacted. Ocean acidification slows the rate at which they grow their skeletons and shells, and can also cause calcium carbonate minerals to dissolve.

Other species like seagrasses and some marine algae benefit from ocean acidification because it increases their growth rates. Coral reefs have been degrading rapidly over the past few decades, and recent research shows that some reefs in the Florida Keys are beginning to dissolve during certain times of the year from ocean acidification…which was not expected to happen for another few decades. Estuaries and mangrove wetlands support many species of shellfish, and ocean acidification may negatively impact those species and the economies that depend on shell fisheries. We are still learning about how changes caused by ocean acidification are impacting these habitats.

OC: Florida is built on limestone bedrock, which is essentially the same material as coral reefs. Since ocean acidification damages coral reef skeletons, can it also hurt Florida’s foundation?

Dr. Yates: There is emerging concern about how ocean acidification might affect the limestone that creates much of Florida’s foundation. We know that ocean acidification can cause reef structure to dissolve. Historical data indicates that seawater pH is decreasing in some major springs and in the coastal waters around Florida.

Much of Florida’s carbonate foundation was formed by dissolution of limestone, causing the formation of sinkholes and our state’s aquifer system. Florida’s groundwater system is linked to coastal waters in many places where water flows from land to sea through the limestone foundation. How freshwater acidification and ocean acidification may interact to affect the limestone foundation or groundwater resources is an emerging area of study.

OC: Are there ways that marine life is adapting that you find surprising and give you hope? 

Dr. Yates: Research shows that marine seagrasses can increase seawater pH because they take up carbon dioxide when they grow. Seagrass beds in coral reef ecosystems may provide some localized protection for marine animals that are negatively impacted by ocean acidification. While many estuaries are showing decreases in seawater pH, there are special cases where seagrass is recovering in estuaries due to restoration efforts and causing an increase in seawater pH. These types of estuaries may also provide some local protection from ocean acidification.

We have also discovered reef-building corals growing in certain mangrove habitats where they help create environmental conditions that protect corals from both ocean warming and ocean acidification. These types of natural environments and adaptations that show resilience to ocean acidification are surprising and offer hope. Protecting these types of environments provides a local action that can be taken to help protect against a global issue like ocean acidification.

OC: What’s the next research question you’d like to answer about ocean acidification?

Dr. Yates: Some of my most rewarding research has been focused on exploring environments that may serve as natural refuges from climate change and ocean acidification for marine species. Only a few of those environments have been identified. Many of these natural refuges are linked to habitats that may be more vulnerable to ocean acidification. I would like to understand what makes these environments resilient, identify other habitats that may serve as refuges and determine how these types of environments may help marine organisms adapt to their changing conditions.

Dr. Kimberly Yates is a senior research scientist at the United States Geological Survey, Coastal and Marine Science Center in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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Q&A with Coral Reef Expert Danielle Dixson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/02/qa-with-danielle-dixson/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/02/qa-with-danielle-dixson/#comments Wed, 02 Dec 2015 14:00:31 +0000 Sage Melcer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11122

Ocean Conservancy is bringing Danielle Dixson, an expert on coral reef fishes, to Capitol Hill to speak to congressional staffers about ocean acidification. She will be participating in a panel hosted by Ocean Conservancy in partnership with Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Representative Mark Takai (D-HI), along with the Ocean Caucus. She recently took some time to speak with us about her work at the University of Delaware.

OC: You’re a self-proclaimed “fish-nerd” and a tireless advocate for ocean health, what drives your passion?

DD:  The ocean is important for numerous reasons; climate regulation, a protein supply for millions of people, and storm protection for coastal communities. The ocean is also beautiful and people love enjoying the beach to unwind. However, because humans do not live underwater, we often overlook the damage inflicted on the ocean. Coral reefs are the ocean equivalent to ecologically important rainforests and their degradation is happening at an alarming rate. I work to raise public awareness about consequences of our behaviors on the ocean because I believe that only understanding stimulates change.

OC: If a stranger stopped you on the street and asked you what you do as a career, how would you explain it to them?

DD:  At the University of Delaware I wear many hats. As a professor I teach marine science courses, and advise students conducting independent research. As a marine ecologist, I study global problems affecting our ocean and share my findings through scientific publications and conference presentations. I also engage the general public through forums such as DVDs and public speaking that are accessible to a range of ages and backgrounds. This helps my projects run smoothly by educating those reliant on the marine environment, as well as being personally fulfilling.

OC: What’s the research you are currently working on?

DD: Broadly, I study how marine animals use sensory information to make important decisions and how their choices impact conservation and management in a changing ecosystem. I’m particularly interested in the coastal environment, since human interaction there is high. Currently my work includes understanding how human-induced changes will affect the behavior of marine organisms. I also am studying how alterations to the terrestrial shoreline will affect aquatic communities, and what affect multiple stressors will have when experienced simultaneously.

OC: Why is it important for ordinary citizens to understand how ocean chemistry affects fishes’ sensory cues?

DD:  Any environmental change that affects behavioral interactions can have huge ramifications at an ecosystem level. Ocean acidification is directly linked to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from humans, but that means humans can make decisions to reduce their individual footprints. Carpooling, eating sustainable and locally-sourced food and recycling all impact CO2 emissions that enter the atmosphere. Understanding ALL these ramifications will help people adjust their behavior for the global good.

OC: You’ll be speaking with congressional staffers in Washington D.C. on ocean acidification’s impacts on fish behavior. What are the key points you will address? 

DD:  Scientists first thought ocean acidification was beneficial because the ocean absorbed excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Without this the earth would be a much warmer place. Scientists now know this is causing water pH to drop, and the ocean to become more acidic. While we understand the chemistry, we do not understand the consequences for organisms living in this rapidly changing environment. Research in my lab demonstrates that while fishes can survive in water with pH levels projected in the near future, they exhibit behavioral and cognitive abnormalities including the inability to perceive and respond appropriately to sensory stimuli. A clownfish under current ambient water conditions (400 pCO2) can use smell to avoid a predator. However, clownfish raised in future pH levels (1000 pCO2) prefer the predator cue instead of avoiding it. These changes have been shown in other species, like the Temperate shark and several small damselfish, and with other sensory stimuli, including hearing, the ability to learn and general behavior.

We are excited to have Danielle speaking on behalf of Ocean Conservancy on such an important issue, and look forward to seeing her on Capitol Hill!

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5 Questions with International Coastal Cleanup Coordinator Hilberto Riverol of Belize http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/15/5-questions-with-international-coastal-cleanup-coordinator-hilberto-riverol-of-belize/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/15/5-questions-with-international-coastal-cleanup-coordinator-hilberto-riverol-of-belize/#comments Sat, 15 Sep 2012 16:00:38 +0000 Catherine Fox http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2749

Hilberto Riverol of The Scout Association of Belize has coordinated the International Coastal Cleanup for his country over the past 20 years, teaching scouts how they can help keep the ocean clean and healthy. Credit: John Carrillo.

Since 1911,  The Scout Association of Belize has taught children to protect and care for the environment on a daily basis. As it happens, their small Central American country on the Caribbean is a rugged place of great natural beauty. Coastal waters host extraordinary marine life, especially along the world’s second largest barrier reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So back in 1992 when Hilberto Riverol, national scout executive with the association, heard that the Ramada Hotel in Belize City was gathering volunteers for the country’s first International Coastal Cleanup, he signed up.  Some 600 participants including the scouts removed more than three tons of trash from approximately 18 miles of the coast.

The next year—and every year since—the association has embraced the role of organizing the event under Hilberto’s devoted leadership as Belize coordinator. We asked him to share his perspective on 20 years of Cleanup events.

1. What drew the Scout Association of Belize to participate in the Cleanup?

Since our founding, scouts have made a significant contribution to environmental causes.

Scouts learn firsthand what’s trashing the ocean when they record everything they find during the International Coastal Cleanup. Credit: Jose Riverol.

Participating in the Cleanup, these boys and girls have learned that there are many problems affecting marine life. Gathering data makes scouts even more aware of the importance of keeping our shoreline clean. They see the danger trash causes when carelessly disposed of in our ocean.

2. What changes and growth have you seen over 20 years?

From a small group of volunteers back in 1990, the Cleanup in Belize has grown over the years. Support from the business community has been consistent. The donation of garbage bags, gloves, rakes, promotional material and radio and television advertisements goes a long way and is very important in helping to cover the overall cost of organizing and holding the event.

The volunteers, who come from all walks of life, seem to be more aware of problems posed by marine debris; as a result, there is a stronger desire to get involved in the Cleanup. (There has also been an increase in recycling in Belize, particularly plastic, paper and glass bottles).

Now we have the participation of many youth and environmental groups, as well as secondary school students. In fact, one secondary school in Belize City makes it mandatory that the entire school of 400+ students must participate each year. The data they collect form part of their school curriculum.

3. Do you have a favorite story from the Cleanup?

No, because each year of organizing and participating in the Cleanup is a different experience. We find everything from money and condoms to dead fish and sea creatures trapped in nets. The latter is what motivates the hundreds of volunteers to come out year after year.

4. What inspires you to support the Cleanup year after year?

If you can make a change, no matter how small it may be, to protect marine life and have cleaner beaches for everyone to enjoy, this is the motive to keep the International Coastal Cleanup alive for years to come.

My favorite quote is from the founder of the scout movement, Lord Baden-Powell:

“Most of us who have been sowing the seed will not, in the nature of things, be here to see the harvest; but we may well feel thankful, indeed jubilant, that our crop is already so well advanced…”

5. What has impressed you most about the International Coastal Cleanup experience?

I believe that the International Coastal Cleanup is of great value to me—and to the thousands of volunteers who have participated over the years—because it demonstrates what can be accomplished by giving just a few hours one day each year.

It gives us all the opportunity to take back from our environment and nature what has been carelessly put there. And it fills us all with pride knowing that we indeed care for and look after nature, particularly marine life and our ocean. The satisfaction of knowing that so many people care for our ocean is engraved deeply in my heart.

Did you participate in a Cleanup event today? Share your stories in the comments section! And remember, it’s never too late to head outside and clean up trash in your neighborhood!

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