Despite sweeping protections put in place near the end of George W. Bush’s presidency for large swaths of marine ecosystems around the Hawaiian Islands, things are not looking good for Hawaii’s coral reefs. ENN reports
Poisonous run-off, rising ocean levels, increasingly acidic waters and overfishing are taking their toll on the reefs and the marine life they support. Biologists are trying to remain optimistic that there is still time to turn things around, but new threats to Hawaii’s corals are only aggravating the situation.
To wit, a previously undocumented cyanobacterial fungus that grows through photosynthesis is spreading by as much as three inches per week on corals along the otherwise pristine North Shore of Kauai. “There is nowhere we know of in the entire world where an entire reef system for 60 miles has been compromised in one fell swoop,” biologist Terry Lilley told The Los Angeles Times. “This bacteria has been killing some of these 50- to 100-year-old corals in less than eight weeks.” He adds that the strange green fungus affects upwards of five percent of the corals in famed Hanalei Bay and up to 40 percent of the coral in nearby Anini Bay, with neighboring areas “just as bad, if not worse.” Lilly worries that the entire reef system surrounding Kauai may be losing its ability to fend off pathogens.
Meanwhile, some 60 miles to the east across the blue Pacific, an invasive algae introduced for aquaculture three decades ago in Oahu’s Kaneohe Bay is also spreading quickly. Biologists are concerned because it forms thick tangled mats that soak up oxygen in the water needed by other plants and animals, in turn converting coral reefs there into smothering wastelands.
“This and other invasive algal species … don’t belong in Hawai’i,” says Eric Conklin, Hawaii director of marine services for The Nature Conservancy, which works to protect ecologically important lands and waters worldwide. He adds that there are not enough plant-eating fish to keep them under control.
Biologists are working hard to battle the algae in and around Kaneohe Bay. Conklin and his colleagues from the Conservancy have joined forces with researchers from the state of Hawaii to develop an inexpensive new technology, dubbed the Super Sucker, which uses barge-based hoses and pumps to vacuum the invasive algae away without disturbing the underlying coral.
- Coral Reefs (livescience.com)
- Coral Reef Collapse Not Inevitable: Ecosystem in Danger, Not Doomed (scienceworldreport.com)
- Coral Reefs (rkarryel.wordpress.com)
Tune in on World Ocean‘s Day 2012 (June 8) as renowned ocean explorer Sylvia Earle talks with a team of coral reef scientists working around the Galápagos Islands. The event, hosted by the Living Oceans Foundation, will be broadcast live from from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
The scientists will be aboard a research vessel, Golden Shadow, in the
Galápagos studying how corals in the area have bounced back from threats such as temperature changes, acidity, and bleaching events. After discussing the research over live video chat, Earle will talk about ocean conservation issues with a panel of youth leaders.
Come listen and participate in the conversation on June 8th starting at
3:30pm EST. We will be streaming live from this page and if you have
questions while watching make sure to send us a tweet!
- Living Oceans Foundation Webcast live from the Galapagos on World Oceans Day (prnewswire.com)
- Living Oceans Foundation Webcast live from the Galapagos on World Oceans Day (sacbee.com)
- The Ocean: Heart of the Planet (ecology.com)
- Biorock giving new life to coral reefs | Johnny Langenheim (bfreenews.com)
- Breathtaking wave photography and World Ocean Day (wjla.com)
- “The Ocean We Want To Know” Music Video Parodies Gotye for World Oceans Day (treehugger.com)
- World Oceans Day bittersweet for DFO (cbc.ca)
- Honor World Oceans Day with these mermaid-inspired finds (mnn.com)
- Ten Things That Came From the Ocean (ecology.com)
- Mera McGrew: Coral: Rekindling Venus (huffingtonpost.com)
A ghostly pallor is overtaking the world’s coral reefs. This results when heat-stressed corals expel the algae they rely on for food - and which are responsiblefor their bright and beautiful hues. Death often follows.
Reefs have long been under threat from destructive fishing practices, runoff, coralmining, reckless tourism and coastal development. Now, scientists say, globalwarming is accelerating the destruction.
One of the worst episodes of coral bleaching began last spring, and affected reefsin virtually all the world’s tropical waters.
“In Panama, the bleaching was the most graphic I’ve ever seen,” said NancyKnowlton, a marine biologist with the Smithsonian Institution. “Everything was justbone white.”
Preliminary assessments suggest that the impact will be worst since the only otherknown global-scale bleaching event, in 1998 and 1999, when more than 10 percentof the world’s shallow-water corals died.
Nearly three-quarters of the planet’s reefs are at risk of serious degradation,according to the World Resources Institute. Another analysis, by the Global CoralReef Monitoring Network, found that as much as one-fifth of the reefs have beendegraded beyond recognition or lost.
By midcentury, virtually all reefs will be at risk, scientists fear, not just from local threats or globalwarming, but from an increasingly acidified ocean. Much of the carbon dioxide released to theatmosphere ends up in the oceans, where it forms a weak acid, lowering the pH level of the seas.
A new study offers some of the strongest evidence linking carbon emissions to reef damage. Thestudy examined corals off the coast of Papua New Guinea located near undersea seeps of carbondioxide. The results showed that as acidity rose, coral resilience plunged.
“We must urgently transition to a low-CO2-emissions future or we face the risk of profound losses ofcoral ecosystems,” said Katharina Fabricius, a reef ecologist with the Australian Institute of MarineScience.
The prospects for such a low-carbon transition in the near term seem remote, however. TheInternational Energy Agency says the world’s carbon dioxide emissions reached a record 27.8 billionmetric tons last year.
Coral reefs provide a crucial source of protein for an estimated 500 million people, protectshorelines from tsunamis and storms, and attract tourists that sustain economies.
Many scientists say that confronting local perils such as overfishing is more important than ever. “Ifwe keep local threats low, coral reefs will be able to get over the climate hump,” said Lauretta Burke,a reef biologist.