MARINE : Google Earth presents fish-eye view of coral reefs

From ENN It is estimated that coral reefs cover around 284,000 square kilometers providing a habitat for thousands of species to live. And unless you’ve snorkeled in some of these underwater habitats, or perhaps have seen a Planet Earth documentary, most of us have never experienced these natural wonders.

But thanks to Google Earth, you can now visit up-close and personal some of the world’s most imperiled ecosystems. The Google team is currently working with scientists to provide 360 degree panoramas, similar to Google street-view, to give armchair ecologists a chance to experience the most biodiverse ecosystems under the waves.

“Only 1% of humanity has ever dived on a coral reef and by making the experience easily accessible the survey will help alert millions of people around the world to the plight of coral reefs,” says Ove Hoegh-Guldberg with the University of Queensland. Hoegh-Guldberg heads the Catlin Seaview Survey which brings cameras mounted to a manned vehicle to photograph the reefs. Last year the team did around 30 surveys in the Great Barrier Reef region, while this year they have expanded to the Caribbean.

The technology has other potential beyond education and appreciation. Researchers hope to employ citizen scientists to identify marine species via images, helping to catalogue biodiversity on embattled reefs. Much like the way the public can upload pictures onto Google Earth and Google Maps, there will be a feature to create public interaction in helping with the project.

Coral reefs are threatened by pollution, coastal development, on-land deforestation, and overfishing. However the largest threat to coral reefs is burning fossil fuels, which is pushing marine temperatures up and causing to ocean acidification.

“Our results show that even under the most moderate climate change projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, most corals will struggle to survive and reefs will rapidly decalcify,” says Hoegh-Guldberg, who is running a longterm project in Australia that measures how corals respond to rising temperatures and acidification in controlled conditions.

In addition, global warming poses a major threat to these massive living structures and the improved Google Earth application will allow us to explore the state of coral reefs around the world, seeing their distribution and concerns facing their future existence.

@NAEE_UK believes children should learn about coral reefs / marine environments

MARINE: Bad news for Caribbean coral

Comprehensive survey of the Caribbean’s reefs is expected to act as a warning of problems besetting the world’s coral. The Guardian reports

A major survey of the coral reefs of the Caribbean is expected to reveal the extent to which one of the world’s biggest and most important reserves of coral has been degraded by climate change, pollution, overfishing and degradation.

The Catlin scientific survey will undertake the most comprehensive survey yet of the state of the region’s reefs, starting in Belize and moving on to Mexico, Anguilla, Barbuda, St Lucia, Turks & Caicos, Florida and Bermuda.

The Catlin scientists said the state of the regions’ reefs would act as an early warning of problems besetting all of the world’s coral. As much as 80% of Caribbean coral is reckoned to have been lost in recent years, but the survey should give a more accurate picture of where the losses have had most effect and on the causes.

Loss of reefs is also a serious economic problem in the Caribbean, where large populations depend on fishing and tourism. Coral reefs provide a vital home for marine creatures, acting as a nursery for fish and a food resource for higher food chain predators such as sharks and whales.

Stephen Catlin, chief executive of the Catlin Group, said: “It is not only important that scientists have access to this valuable data, but companies such as ours must understand the impact that significant changes to our environment will have on local economies.”

Globally, coral reefs are under threat. The future of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is in doubt as mining and energy companies want to forge a shipping lane through it to form a more direct link with their export markets.

Warming seas owing to climate change can lead to coral being “bleached” – a state where the tiny polyps that build the reefs die off. The US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts increasing frequency and severity of mass bleaching events as global warming takes effect.

Richard Vevers, director of the project, told the Guardian that one important role of the new survey would be to describe a new “baseline” to establish how far such problems have taken their toll to date, which will enable future scientists to judge how degradation – or conservation – progresses.

He said the team of scientists would also probe the underlying reasons for such degradation, with a view to informing conservation efforts.

The team will use satellite data as well as direct observations to assess the reefs. As part of the survey, they will develop software that marine scientists can apply to other reefs around the world. A new camera has been constructed to assist their efforts.

Vevers said: “The Caribbean was chosen to launch the global mission because it is at the frontline of risk. Over the last 50 years 80% of the corals have been lost due mainly coastal development and pollution. They now are also threatened by invasive species, global warming and the early effects of ocean acidification — it’s the perfect storm.”‘

NAEE_UK believes we need to discuss climate change

Three-quarters of the world’s reefs at risk

Representatives from ZSL’s Conservation and Living Collections teams on Thursday participated in the launch of the Reefs at Risk Revisited report launch.

Coral at ZSL London Zoo© ZSL – James Godwin
Dr Heather Koldewey, ZSL’s International Marine and Freshwater Conservation Programme Manager, said ‘This report provides an invaluable compilation of the latest and most comprehensive data set on the world’s coral reefs.
These data support ZSL’s position that we are in imminent danger of losing most of our coral reefs over the next 30-50 years unless there is a rapid and global action. ZSL is committed to such action through diverse programmes that span from grass roots initiatives like EDGE Coral Reefs, to our international policy work supporting GLOBE’.

In the 10 years since the first Reefs at Risk analysis, threats have increased by 30 percent. This includes recent impacts from climate change which causes rising ocean temperatures and coral bleaching.

The most immediate and direct threats arise from local sources, which currently threaten more than 60 percent of reefs (about 150,000 sq km of reefs). Local threats include overfishing, destructive fishing, coastal development and pollution.

Unless steps are taken to reduce local pressure and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, the percent of threatened reefs will increase to more than 90% by 2030 and to nearly all reefs by 2050.

Most vulnerable

The report identifies 27 nations most vulnerable to coral reef degradation and loss in the world (of 108 reef countries assessed). The nine coun¬tries most vulnerable to the effects of coral reef degradation, due to high dependence on coral reefs and low adaptive capacity, are: Haiti, Grenada, Philippines, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji, and Indonesia.

The report makes 60 recommendations for action. ZSL’s coral reef conservation efforts respond to many of these, including supporting and implementing effective marine protected areas (in Chagos and the Philippines through Project Seahorse), building conservation and management capacity in coral reef nations (EDGE Corals, Project Seahorse), supporting the most vulnerable countries (e.g. Philippines through Project Seahorse) and influencing policy (Climate Change programme; GLOBE Action Plan for Coral Reefs).

The report was led by the World Resources Institute, along with the Nature Conservancy, the WorldFish Center, ICRAN, UNEP-WCMC, and GCRMN. One of the report’s authors, Dr Allison Perry, is a former member of the Project Seahorse team.,796,NS.html

The full report can be downloaded at

Are Africa’s seas getting protection they deserve, finally?

South Africa maps first deep-sea preserve

The Independent/AFP

Underwater canyons, deep-sea coral reefs and sponge banks are part of a unique ecosystem that South Africa wants to save within its first deep-sea marine protected area. After 10 years of consultations, South Africa has mapped the boundaries for the proposed reserve stretching 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the eastern KwaZulu-Natal coast.The mapping required synthesising the many divergent interests in the Indian Ocean waters, with 40 industries from fishing to gas lines to jet skis operating in an area home to about 200 animal species and their ecosystems.”All of this data was then entered into conservation planning software in order to identify areas of high biodiversity while avoiding areas of high (economic) pressure,” said Tamsyn Livingstone, the researcher who heads the project.The conservation area is being born in a spirit of compromise, which will allow people and companies to continue using the protected waters in zones designated as lower-risk threats to biodiversity.The scheme still needs to be passed into law, but would join South Africa’s existing network of marine preserves strung along its 3,000-kilometre (1,800-mile) coast stretching from the warm Indian Ocean to the cold southern Atlantic.South Africa has embraced this “participatory” method to protecting species living in its water, an approach pioneered in California and Australia.Global goals for protecting biodiversity have been debated for two weeks at a UN summit in Nagoya, Japan (, in an effort to set goals on saving habitats which would help to end the mass extinction of species.Environmental groups want 20 percent of coastal and marine areas protected, they say China and India are lobbying for six percent or lower. Talks are supposed to wrap up on Friday.Part of the challenge is in protecting species that are more often than not still unknown. Only one quarter of the estimated million species in the oceans have been discovered.A global census of the oceans unveiled in early October uncovered prehistoric fish thought dead millions of years ago, capturing researchers’ imaginations about what else lurks in the deepest parts of the sea.”Offshore biodiversity is not well known,” said Kerry Sink of the South African National Biodiversity Institute.Exploring the seas remains an expensive project, prompting South African researchers to reach agreements to share information with fisheries, coastal diamond mines and the oil industry.”South Africa’s plan is unique in covering all industry sectors to ensure that biodiversity planning minimizes the impact on industry,” she said.”Healthy offshore ecosystems underpin healthy fisheries and keep options open for future generations.”With growing worries about climate change, scientists say the deep seas could become an important source of protein for the planet, because water temperature changes less at great depths.That assumes that the growth of industry can be managed alongside the marine life, especially as oil companies find ways to drill in ever-deeper waters.The explosion of a BP oil rig in April off the Louisiana coast, rupturing a 1,500-metre deep well, highlighted the risks.It took five months to shut off the leak which caused the biggest the oil spill in US history, with 205 million gallons of oil flowing into the Gulf.

Marine Reserves in UK

South African Biodiversity Inst

World Oceans Day ‘celebrates’ with …. an oilspill!?

World Oceans Day is June 8

Whlist growing up in my native New Zealand, never all that far from the coast and beaches, I enjoyed the times I was ‘beside the sea’ but tried not to take it for granted.

In time, I became involved in helping to run Seaweek activities for children and families , with the resulting buzz of seeing these children gaining a very real and tangible benefit from being outdoors. I also helped set up the first marine reserve  near Wellington, the capital city. All of these experiences were based on my long-time voluntary efforts with the ‘Forest and Bird’ New Zealand’s largest independent conservatioon group  

See full size image

Having travelled to the United Kingdom, and enroute visiting Italy, France and most recently Croatia, I again had a renewed awareness of how much these countries rely on, benefit on but I wonder if they take for granted (?), their coasts, wildlife and all of the incumbent natural resources.

Our fish stocks are being depleted, with Marine Conservation Society suggestions regarding sustainable fish

The whaling ban is in jeapordy

The current oil spill in the Bay of Mexico only serves to illustrate how much we – or at least industry and government (?) – are willing and able to risk these finite natural resources. The images of wildlife covered in oil and Barak Obama with Tar balls on the beaches is the visual ‘tip of the iceberg’.

Nature is resilent – the latest reports of islands thought to be sinking, actually doing the complete opposite – but we humans are consistently battling with Nature for more and more resources, due to an ever-expanding population, and the seas and oceans are hsowing the strain! 

Is it really ‘all up’ to the future generations or can we not start, here and now, to make that difference?

Waterworld .. but with biodiversity dead! Is that what we really want?

The Independent reports that coral reefs are showing rising acidity.

All of the tropical coral reefs in the world will be disintegrating by the end of the century because of the rising acidity of the oceans caused by a build-up of man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a study has found.

Coral reefs are sometimes considered to be the “rainforests of the oceans” because they are home to a wide variety of fish and other wildlife, supporting about a quarter of all marine organisms. They also provide food for about 500 million people around the world. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are higher now than at any time in the last 650,000 years, and are continuing to rise as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. Between a third and a half of the CO2 produced since the start of the industrial revolution has dissolved in the oceans.

Corals have a symbiotic relationship with the microscopic algae that live in their tissues. As well as giving coral its vibrant colour, the algae provide the reef creatures with most of their energy.  “Even if we froze emissions today, the planet still has some warming left in it. That’s enough to make bleaching dangerously frequent in reefs worldwide.”

MY VIEW: I have been fortunate to have seen coral reefs on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (World Heritage Site) and the Red Sea, both several years ago. Whilst snorkelling at these sites, I noted the wonderful habitat rich in fish and marine life; I also was very aware, too, espedially in the Red Sea, how some of the coral was turning white  – a change that was graphic! Even as a non-marine scientist (I am a geographer by training), I realised what I was witnessing was unnatural – and wrong!

Recalling the film Waterworld – in which kevin Costner’s character lived – no survived – in a world dominanted by sea, but with no beauty and few plants and animals.  

We must all take steps to protect our marine environment, including:

* reducing CO2 emissions 

* not taking it for these amazing – and fragile – habitats for granted!

We as a human race are speeding up the timer on the planet’s ecosystem … and the ‘blue planet’ is being drained of potential to keep us alive!   

The Indy article in full

Coral reefs in danger of being destroyed


Rising acidity of the oceans is threat to marine ecosystems, study warns

By Steve Connor, Science Editor in San Diego

All of the tropical coral reefs in the world will be disintegrating by the end of the century because of the rising acidity of the oceans caused by a build-up of man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a study has found.

 Coral reefs start to disintegrate when the acidity of the oceans rises beyond a certain threshold, and this point is likely to be reached before 2100, said Jacob Silverman of the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington.

Carbon dioxide in the air dissolves in the sea to form carbonic acid, which interferes with the ability of coral organisms to make their calcium carbonate shells which form coral reefs, Dr Silversman said. But once the shells stop forming, the reef quickly crumbles.

A mathematical model was used to study how 9,000 coral reefs from around the world would respond to rising levels of carbon dioxide and increasing ocean acidity, Dr Silverman told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego.

“A global map produced on the basis of these calculations shows that all coral reefs are expected to stop their growth and start to disintegrate when atmosphere CO2 reaches 560 parts per million – double its pre-industrial level – which is expected by the end of the 21st-century,” he told the meeting.

“Thus these ecosystems, which harbour the highest diversity of marine life in the oceans, may be severely reduced within less than 100 years.”

The findings were based on a detailed study of how increasing acidity affects the metabolism and growth of a large area of fringing coral reef in the northern Red Sea. The scientists found that the ability of corals to form their calcium skeletons was strongly dependent on acidity and, to a lesser extent, temperature.

Coral reefs are sometimes considered to be the “rainforests of the oceans” because they are home to a wide variety of fish and other wildlife, supporting about a quarter of all marine organisms. They also provide food for about 500 million people around the world. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are higher now than at any time in the last 650,000 years, and are continuing to rise as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. Between a third and a half of the CO2 produced since the start of the industrial revolution has dissolved in the oceans.

Scientists have estimated that some 118 billion tonnes of carbon released into the air as carbon dioxide between 1800 and 1994 has been taken up by the oceans.

Dr Simon Donner, of the University of British Columbia in Canada, said increasing ocean temperatures also make coral reefs more susceptible to “bleaching”, caused by the loss of the photosynthetic algae on which the coral organisms depend.

Corals have a symbiotic relationship with the microscopic algae that live in their tissues. As well as giving coral its vibrant colour, the algae provide the reef creatures with most of their energy.

Dr Donner said: “Even if we froze emissions today, the planet still has some warming left in it. That’s enough to make bleaching dangerously frequent in reefs worldwide.”

Let the panda die out naturally …!?

Let the panda die out ‘with dignity’, says BBC expert Chris Packham
The zoologist, who has replaced Bill Oddie as a presenter on BBC’s Springwatch, risked criticism from wildlife conservationists in an interview with the Radio Times in which he describes the giant panda as a “T-shirt animal” on which too much conservation money is wasted. “Here is a species that, of its own accord, has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac. It’s not a strong species,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s big and cute and a symbol of the World Wide Fund for Nature and we pour millions of pounds into into panda conservation. “I reckon we should pull the plug. Let them go, with a degree of dignity.“… He added: “Chris has taken an irresponsible position. Pandas face extinction because of poaching and human pressures on their habitat. They have adapted to the area in which they live and if left alone, they function perfectly well. “However, he is right in his assertion that we must secure habitat in order to protect endangered species. This is exactly what we work to achieve in the case of the giant panda.’

Megafauna such as the giant panda are the key, some say, to unlocking conservation potential… But  about the animal that never gets the spotlight? Insects for example?  

Is too much money spent on large, supposedly lovable creatures – when large habitats are at risk? Should we really care about one species?

Is this all a futile argument a- should we simply live more sustainably a- anfd can we actually do that? – and let ‘nature take it natural course’ (Chris’ orginal argument, I think). 


Chris Packham – It is time to let the Panda go?

03/06/2009 16:55:25



Part One – Can we afford Pandas?

I’ve been upsetting most peoples sentimentalities again recently by saying, loudly thanks to BBC Radio and the written media, that it time we found the courage to give up on Pandas. Let them go, wave goodbye, maybe have a party, or a wake, whatever, just stop wasting money trying to ‘save’ them from extinction. I know, a bit controversial to question conservation, the great invention of all the good folk who want to save everything from themselves, let alone spout such heresy about its most sacred icon. For those of you who are not aware of my maverick musings on this matter I’ll précis them here.

An ex-carnivore bamboo muncher unfortunately ends up in the most populated place on earth. Its food predictably all dies with disastrous regularity and its digestive system is poorly adapted to its diet. It’s slow to reproduce, tastes good, but in a blind strike of evolutionary luck it is plump, cute and cuddly. That is from an anthropological point of view. So given only the latter in the formative days of conservation the pioneers choose it as a symbol and begin to investigate its conservation. Panda porn, or the lack of it, made us all giggle in the sixties and seventies and gradually the fat pied ones became greater than the sum of the sense in keeping them alive. But having spent so much it’s very difficult to stop. We are now spending millions and millions of dollars on a loser which lives in a country being stormed by the whole worlds greedy despite its horrible politics. It’s Catch 22 for Pandas and we’re caught by the credit cards despite our very own desperate credit crisis. So I say stop, save our relatively paltry funds for cases where we can make a real difference, because that’s our job.

Leopards would change their spots

Dr Mark Wright from WWF was called to comment on my outbursts and very kindly offered a voice with an opposing opinion. The trouble is that we seem to agree about much of the argument, apart from letting them become extinct of course, but it’s difficult for me to get cross about the views he outlines because they have a heritage of useful practice and a legacy of great success, and he certainly seems to agree with my view that now is a time when we face critical choices and these will come with a cost. But perhaps where we deviate a little is that I forcefully believe that we have to admit our mistakes and that times change and ideas must move with them and as the rate of that change accelerates so must the speed revision of our methods of best practice. That’s evolution, adapt to changes or die out. You see the old maxim is wrong – ultimately given time a Leopard could and would change its spots!

Conservation – It’s a business

So what’s the problem? Conservation is very, very conservative and frighteningly inflexible. For all its modernisation it still seems rooted in a time when worthiness and self righteousness were essential fuels or tools to brow beat or confound or embarrass opponents into action or inaction. Despite the massive increase in the size and consequential financial turnover of the giant national and international charities, despite their necessary but often unpalatable corporatism, they still don’t seem to realise that conservation is not a vocation, a religion, or a field where ‘being right’ is the answer. It’s a business and we’re running a little, ill respected and frequently ignored company whose managers continue to think that caring counts enough to change the world. It’s no longer even a quaint or nice idea, it’s an embarrassing naivety. It’s why we are still waiting for old ladies to leave us their small fortunes instead of being taken seriously by global corporations. It’s why we are still playing with nature reserves and Pandas instead of planning to make a real difference, now when we could, and so desperately need to.

And there’s worse… Some of conservations ‘big-boys’ do actually have a little clout, and even more importantly they have rightfully earned respect, but because they are wrapped up in their new found game of politics, and all the compromises this sorry, silly game imposes they are increasingly pulling punches which should be launched and landed to make maximum impact. They can’t do A because it will have a knock on effect with B which means C will get set back. They’ve joined the liars game and they are playing at our and the planets expense. Nice. It’s a power issue, the have a little but are too scared to use it, because then some of their new friends won’t talk to them, and some of their sacred members might get a bit upset.

Can we afford Pandas?

But here is the paradoxical truth of it. We are all right; we are all motivated by an honest desire to look after our world, even the Pandas. That’s why I wouldn’t argue with Mark Wright on Radio 5, he wants the same as me, and you, and I’m not going to undermine that through public bickering because I want a result, the best result we can afford. That’s why it’s my job to ask, ‘Can we afford Pandas?’ Think about it please.