Ocean Currents » coral http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 21 Apr 2017 20:52:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 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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Little Footprints in the Sand—A First Trip to the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/15/little-footprints-in-the-sand-a-first-trip-to-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/15/little-footprints-in-the-sand-a-first-trip-to-the-ocean/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 12:00:40 +0000 Anne Christianson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10089

A successful trip for Grandma, introducing her newest love Maggie, to her oldest love, the ocean.

This is a story about family, but also about love and nature and tradition. My mother was raised in Iowa, more than 1,000 miles from the nearest coast. Yet, she was always fascinated by the ocean—studying biology at a time when women were told they couldn’t be scientists and moving to the Caribbean as a young biology teacher—spending all her free time bumming rides on scuba diving trips.

Life took her back up to the frozen tundra of Minnesota, but she did her best to instill her love of the ocean in myself and my brother. My first experience in the sea was as a six-year-old—swimming after stingrays, angelfish and sea turtles—marveling at the coral right at my fingertips. Continued exposure to nature—whether snorkeling in the ocean, hiking in the deserts or camping in the north woods—predictably led me to a career in conservation science and policy.

When my niece, Maggie, was born 18 months ago, Mom started planning her introduction to the sea. In January, Grandma and Granddaughter trudged through the snow for weekly swimming lessons. In February, the flights were booked and miniature sunglasses were purchased. Stepping out of the Fort Meyers airport in March, Mom declared she could already smell the salt in the air.

Arriving on Sanibel Island, we headed directly to the beach, Maggie carrying her little yellow bucket to collect shells. She immediately walked into the waves, splashing the water with her hands. She drew lines in the sand and watched the waves wash her drawings away. She became enamored with fish crows and mimicked their call. She was fascinated by a beached sea urchin, eagerly showing her father the treasure. Examining some dried horseshoe crab egg sacs, she got distracted every time a pelican flew overhead.

The rest of the week Maggie demanded to be taken to the beach right away in the morning. We took turns playing with her in the water and every time she was taken out of the ocean, she grabbed someone else’s hand to lead them back in. The evenings brought protesting tears as we packed up the umbrella and chairs to head back in.

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California’s MPAs: A Pilgrimage to Where it All Began http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/10/californias-mpas-a-pilgrimage-to-where-it-all-began/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/10/californias-mpas-a-pilgrimage-to-where-it-all-began/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:00:15 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9597

At 1,400 miles in length, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on our planet and consists of more than 600 types of hard and soft corals. Thousands of varieties of fish and molluscs call this breathtaking maze home. And if that isn’t enough to impress you: the Great Barrier Reef is so massive it can be seen from outer space. Yes…outer space! Needless to say, visiting this special place has been on my bucket list since I was a kid and saw my first film chronicling the explorations of Jacques Cousteau and the crew of the Calypso.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) also served as inspiration for California’s process to establish a statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs), an effort I’ve spent the better part of the last decade working to support. So when I was invited to speak about these areas at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney this November, I jumped at the opportunity to attend, and to visit the Great Barrier Reef.

It was spectacular. I shared turquoise blue waters with blacktip reef and tawny nurse sharks, took flight with white-spotted eagle rays, and floated quietly in the presence of loggerhead sea turtles. Best of all, I got to rub elbows with the folks who make the GBRMP possible.  And I learned that they spend a lot of time thinking about the same issues as we do: education and outreach, partnerships and local engagement, long-term monitoring, and best practices for enforcement.

Because the Great Barrier Reef is a single, complicated structure with trillions of delicately balanced living and breathing components, it is also ground zero for our increasingly warm and more acidic ocean. What happens to the sensitive, exposed habitats of the Great Barrier Reef in the next couple of years may be a harbinger of what’s to come in the rest of our ocean in the coming decades.

Heron Island, where I spent much of my time, is a coral island that sits directly on the Reef, just north of Gladstone, Queensland, Australia, where the world’s fourth largest coal export terminal is located. The Island is home to nesting green sea turtles, giant shovel-nosed rays, and a 400-pound Queensland grouper named “Gus.” It’s also home to the University of Queensland Research Station, where scientists are studying the effects of carbon emissions and warmer temperatures on local corals.

These scientists know that the fossil fuels we are burning—like coal—don’t just go into the atmosphere; they are also absorbed by the ocean. When this carbon pollution is absorbed by seawater, it turns it more acidic. In fact, the ocean is 30% more acidic today than it was 150 years ago. And increasingly acidic water is bad news for animals that build shells, including corals.

Warming waters, also as a result of carbon dioxide, mean more bleaching and more algae and diseases that corals have to recover from. Scientists in the Great Barrier Reef are looking at what this all will mean for the Reef and for the ocean as a whole.

While the situation is very concerning, it’s my hope that our global community will be able to significantly reduce carbon pollution and ocean acidification to keep our ocean—and the wonders that reside within it— healthy.

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BP Oil Marring Deep-Water Corals 13 Miles Out http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/31/bp-oil-marring-deep-water-corals-13-miles-out/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/31/bp-oil-marring-deep-water-corals-13-miles-out/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 19:09:33 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8892

Photo: Fisher lab, Penn State University

Deep-water corals keep good records, which come in handy in the case of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Researchers from Penn State University discovered this week that the impact of the BP oil disaster on corals living in the cold waters at the Gulf of Mexico seafloor is bigger than predicted.

This study joins dozens of others on fish, dolphins and birds as part of the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment, a legal process that’s critical for tracking the damage that started four years ago at the bottom of the Gulf. Scientists first discovered corals coated in a brown substance only 7 miles from the now-defunct BP well in late 2010. The oil left over from the disaster is more difficult to find in the deep sea (in contrast to the coastline, where the occasional 1,000-pound tar mat washes up on shore), so scientists must look to corals for clues on how the marine environment was impacted. “One of the keys to coral’s usefulness as an indicator species is that the coral skeleton retains evidence of the damage long after the oil that caused the damage is gone,” said lead researcher Charles Fisher.

As you can see in the photo above, the normally gold-colored coral has a number of patchy brown growths, which is not found on healthy coral colonies. This coral has been damaged by BP oil.

So how did the oil get so far away from the source? Since these corals are deeper and further away than those previously discovered, Fisher said it could mean that the oil plume could have been bigger than we thought. Potentially, more oil sank to the seafloor than scientists originally predicted.

Not surprising, BP is already trying to refute the scientists’ work, claiming that the corals could have been oiled by the oil and gas that naturally seep up through the Gulf seafloor. However, natural seeps release only 40,000 gallons a day through small cracks in the seafloor across the entire Gulf of Mexico, from Cuba to Mexico to Mississippi. BP released seven times that—2.5 million gallons a day—in one part of the vast Gulf. It seemed obvious that so much oil over a concentrated area of the seafloor would have serious impacts on our deep-sea corals, and after years of careful study, researchers are now providing the scientific links to document those injuries.

Photo: Ocean Conservancy

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Building a Mosaic of Restoration Projects for the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/19/building-a-mosaic-of-restoration-projects-for-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/19/building-a-mosaic-of-restoration-projects-for-the-gulf/#comments Thu, 19 Jul 2012 14:38:52 +0000 Denny Takahashi Kelso http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1807 sea turtle mosaic

Credit: luxomedia flickr stream

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster harmed communities from Texas to Florida and damaged the Gulf ecosystem from the ocean floor to the surface across a vast swath of waters and shoreline. Restoring these damaged resources will require a comprehensive, Gulf-wide restoration plan that covers coastal environments, blue-water resources and Gulf communities.

Because wildlife like birds, fish and marine mammals move throughout the ecosystem making use of coastal, nearshore and offshore environments, effective restoration requires a holistic approach. For example, restoration efforts for oyster reefs or barrier islands in Texas should complement the work done in Alabama or in Florida so that the full suite of species and habitats can recover.

The state and federal officials responsible for creating such a plan, the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees, are making decisions about how to spend the balance of the $1 billion committed by BP for early restoration. The decisions they make about early restoration and about the longer-term restoration program to follow have the potential to pay enormous dividends to the Gulf for generations.

To help the Trustees build an effective plan, a coalition of nonprofit groups, including Ocean Conservancy, has created a portfolio of 39 projects that reflect an integrated and Gulf-wide approach to restoration.

No doubt, other projects could have been included, but the point is to start a conversation about how we collectively fulfill our vision of a healthy and prosperous Gulf. This portfolio is more than a mosaic of projects; it also initiates an ongoing dialogue about how to most effectively restore the damage to the Gulf from the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy.

Here are a few examples from the portfolio:

  • Sea Turtle Nesting Beach Conservation: The five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are all either endangered or threatened. This project would protect their nesting habitat and nearby waters as well as provide for rehabilitation and care of injured sea turtles.
  • Large-scale Seagrass Restoration and Protection: Seagrass beds are essential components of healthy, productive and biodiverse aquatic ecosystems. This project aims to restore those areas damaged by vessel traffic, boom placement and other response and recovery efforts in ecologically sensitive areas.
  • Monitoring Marine Mammals, Sea Turtles and Bluefin Tuna: Additional observation and biological sampling in the Gulf will help scientists understand any lingering oil-exposure effects on these species.
  • Oyster Reef Restoration: Rebuilding reefs for juvenile oysters to colonize also provides nursery habitat for fish and nesting area for birds while protecting shorelines from erosion.
  • Threatened Coral Recovery: Restoration of shallow-water corals will provide critical habitat for fishes and other reef inhabitants, improving the health and resilience of this unique reef community.
  • Rebuilding Marsh and Barrier Islands: Marsh areas provide nursery habitat and help prevent dead zones by absorbing excess nutrients; barrier islands provide critical habitat for nesting birds. By restoring these ecosystems, a wide range of Gulf species benefit.
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Of Fear, Hope, and the Future of Our Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/17/of-fear-hope-and-the-future-of-our-oceans/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/17/of-fear-hope-and-the-future-of-our-oceans/#comments Tue, 17 Jul 2012 19:30:28 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1768

Credit: Wyant Lauterman

As an ocean scientist I am personally familiar with the struggle between dread and hope. This duality is deeply entwined in all of our work here at Ocean Conservancy. Understanding the seriousness of what ails the ocean and what it will take to address these problems often keeps me up at night. But it is the knowledge that much can be done to turn the tide – that there is hope for our oceans – that gets me out of bed each morning.

Anxiety can be paralyzing. But if we let fear over the extent of the ocean’s problems overwhelm us, the future will undoubtedly be bleak. Yet, so too can false hope also prevent timely or adequate action or send us in search of solutions not based on scientific fact. We must face this scientific reality if we are to address the seriousness of the challenges before us.

Last week, The New York Times published a powerful opinion piece starkly laying out an ocean future devoid of coral reefs. Corals are under assault from a “perfect storm” of overfishing, ocean acidification, and pollution and their future is very much at risk. But the piece’s author Roger Bradbury went further, concluding that “there is no hope of saving the global coral reef ecosystem” and accusing conservationists of “persisting in the false belief that corals have a future.” He calls for a radical reallocation of funding from trying to save coral reefs to coping with the fallout from their inevitable collapse.

Should we simply give up on coral reefs? Really? Is our only solution to plan for a world without corals and the vital natural ecosystems they support? There is no debating that a healthy future for corals is at serious risk, but in my view, the only sure way to guarantee corals’ failure is to lose hope that we can save them. To give up. At Ocean Conservancy, we believe there is a moral imperative to ensure that doesn’t happen.

History is replete with examples where a dedicated effort – and a dose of optimism – turned some of the most dire environmental problems around. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio literally caught fire because it was so polluted. That same river now supports 44 species of fish and bald eagles have started nesting along its shores. Speaking of bald eagles, they, along with other iconic American species such as the Gray Wolf, the Southern Sea Otter and the Grey Whale, have recovered from the edge of extinction due to the combined effects of the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts and countless dedicated scientists, advocates and government officials with a deep commitment to making things better and a belief that they could make a difference.

Don’t get me wrong. Here at Ocean Conservancy, we are not Pollyannas. We believe in facing the ocean’s problems head on. But we also know from experience that nature is extraordinarily resilient. And with focus and tenacity even very serious threats can be addressed over time. That is why we have worked tirelessly for more than a decade to establish a network of marine reserves in California, a central strategy to enhance the ocean’s ability to resist the impending – and frightening – impacts of climate change. We have succeeded in putting red snapper on a path to recovery in the Gulf of Mexico and developed a broader blueprint for recovery in the Gulf following the BP oil disaster. This work was extraordinarily hard. It has no guarantee of future success. But we believe it will make a difference and this belief is fundamentally grounded in the hope of a better future for our ocean.

Make no mistake – our ocean faces significant and daunting challenges. But we can’t give up hope. Instead the scientific reality that our coral reefs are dying must be our wake up call. The time is now to redouble our efforts, focus on real solutions and collectively commit to making the tough choices necessary to turn the tide.

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