Exploring the Twilight Zone of coral reefs…





“ABOARD THE HI’IALAKAI NEAR KURE ATOLL—Back in 1986, 19-year-old college dropout Richard Pyle was 75 meters deep in the clear waters off Palau, pursuing a small pink fish with red tiger stripes, when he noticed it seemed hard to breathe. His pressure gauge showed plenty of air in his scuba tank, and at this depth, far below where most scuba divers dare to venture, Pyle was certain the fish would be a species new to science. He caught the fish in his net, then headed up.

When he reached 55 meters, though, he couldn’t breathe at all. The needle on his gauge, which had apparently been stuck, plunged to zero. Pyle did a rocket ascent, exhaling so his lungs wouldn’t burst from expanding gas. As he breached the surface, he was seeing stars, a symptom of shallow-water blackout. He gulped a few breaths and managed to holler to an eminent ichthyologist waiting aboard the boat: “Jack, take a look at this fish!”

Because of Pyle’s rapid ascent, nitrogen bubbles within his bloodstream and tissues had ballooned in size, tearing flesh and nerves. He had decompression sickness—the bends—and further mishaps delayed treatment. By the end of the day he was paralyzed, unable to control his arm, legs, or bladder.

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Coral reefs grow faster and healthier when Parrotfish are abundant…



In a recent study from Smithsonian scientists in the Bocas del Toro archipelago of Panama, fossils, sediments, and core samples were analyzed to determine coral growth rates (accretion) with parrotfish abundance over a time frame of 3,000 years. The team took six 33 ft core samples and dated fossils using uranium-thorium isotope analyses, which can provide extremely fine-scale resolution down to just a few years. Samples dated back to 997 B.C. and exhibited a range of conditions before pollution and wide-spread disease outbreaks, as well as die-offs of the long-spined sea urchin (Diadema) which grazes on algae and helps prevent coral from becoming smothered.

“This fossil record of reefs provides evidence that parrotfishes were actually causing faster reef growth, rather than the other way round, or the two simply being driven by a third factor,” said Aaron O’Dea, a co-author of the study and scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. “Because of this intimate causal relationship between parrotfishes and healthier reefs, we support the call that parrotfish conservation be made a priority for the recovery and persistence of Caribbean coral reefs.”


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High-resolution predictions of annual coral bleaching under climate change…

New research predicts the future of coral reefs under climate change and the fate of one of Earth’s most important ecosystems. High-resolution projections predict that Taiwan and the Turks and Caicos islands will likely be among the world’s first areas to experience annual bleaching events. In the past, severe bleaching events usually coincided with the El Nino Southern Oscillation, an event that occurs roughly every couple years. In the future, annual events will become more common.

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Life and death following the Great Barrier Reef mass bleaching…

Staghorn corals killed by bleaching on the Northern GBR, Nov 2016.jpg

Staghorn corals killed by coral bleaching on Bourke Reef, on the Northern Great Barrier Reef, November 2016. Credit: Greg Torda, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Scientists have recently finished surveying portions of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef which recently experienced the largest recorded die-off of corals. In the northern sections of the Great Barrier Reef, there was an average mortality of 67% of all shallow-water corals over the past 9 months due to high temperature-induced bleaching. Where once lush and colorful expanses of corals and other reef-inhabiting creatures could be seen, now only large expanses of algal mats smother the substrate. However, further south, scientists were surprised to find that the death toll was much lower.

“Most of the losses in 2016 have occurred in the northern, most-pristine part of the Great Barrier Reef. This region escaped with minor damage in two earlier bleaching events in 1998 and 2002, but this time around it has been badly affected,” says Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies based at James Cook University, who undertook extensive aerial surveys at the height of the bleaching.


While the northern regions suffered, only a 6% and 1% mortality of corals was observed in the central and southern regions, respectively.


The map, detailing coral loss on Great Barrier Reef, shows how mortality varies enormously from north to south. Credit: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Tourism along the Great Barrier Reef plays a major role in the culture and economy of Australia’s eastern coast. Over 70,000 people work in the tourism sector of the Great Barrier Reef and it generates upwards of $5 billion dollars each year. Given the patchy distribution of the worst damage along the reef, tourism can still thrive in the areas that weren’t hit as hard.


Healthy coral in the Capricorn Group of Islands, Southern Great Barrier Reef, November 2016. Credit: Tory Chase, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Researchers now expect that the northern, most devastated region could take at least 10-15 years to regain lost corals, if yet another future bleaching event doesn’t end up slowing the recovery.

3D Printing Technology May Aid in Reef Recovery…


THE TECHNOLOGY surrounding 3D printing has been around for quite a few years now, however we are just now starting to see offshoots of ingenuity for conservation biology when it comes to manufacturing complex structures out of synthetic materials.

On the Caribbean island of Bonaire, Netherland Antilles, 3D printing is going to be put to good use to create complex artificial geometric structures resembling corals to aid in recruitment of new, healthy reef organisms. Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the late oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, is partnering with local efforts in Bonaire to make 3D printing of corals a reality.


“The Bonaire park is already host to experiments in re-growing coral in nurseries and extensive research. The island, about 50 miles north of Venezuela, is one of the bright spots for reefs in the Caribbean, where the iconic reefs have been devastated by the effects of pollution, development and climate change.”

Associated Press, Source

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Obama To Quadruple Hawaii Monument, Creating World’s Largest Protected Marine Area…


“President Barack Obama, who’s already protected more public acres than any U.S. president, will add to his legacy of conservation by quadrupling the marine monument surrounding the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the White House announced.

The designation, expected to take effect Friday, will expand Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument from 139,797 square miles to 582,578 square miles, making it the largest marine protected area on the planet.


Expansion of the original Marine National Monument to include a total of 1.5 million square kilometers.

The White House said the move “provides critical protections for more than 7,000 marine species,” including federally protected monk seals, whales and sea turtles, as well as black coral ― the longest-living marine species in the world.

The expansion also is expected to make the area more resilient to climate change-related threats, including rising sea levels, warming ocean temperatures and acidification.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who introduced the proposal in June, called Obama’s move, ‘one of the most important actions an American president has ever taken for the health of the oceans.’

The expansion will extend the monument’s protections, including a ban on commercial fishing, from 50 miles to 200 miles around the remote island chain. The area covered by the expanded monument will be nearly four times the size of California, and nearly as big as Alaska.”

-By Chris D’Angelo, Huffington Post


Fish pee, coral’s number one nutrient supply, cut by fishing fish…


“Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman emperor Vespasian taxed the sale of human urine, then a valuable industrial ingredient. When his son objected, the emperor held a gold coin to his nose, asking whether it smelled—arguing that money was money, no matter its source.

Perhaps Vespasian would have been a great marine biologist; when it comes to nutrients in coral reefs, he’s absolutely right. In fact, coral reefs wouldn’t be stunning havens for biodiversity without one key nutrient source: fish urine.

The trouble is, humans like to eat reefs’ best recyclers: the biggest, and biggest bladdered, fish atop the food chain. And unsustainable pursuit of that protein comes at a cost. A study published on Tuesday in Nature Communications reveals that fishing can remove nearly half of coral reefs’ fish-driven recycling—underscoring the importance of large fish, and in particular large predators, in the post-food chain.

‘It’s kind of a funny thing to say that we would conserve for fish pee,’ says study author Jake Allgeier, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington. ‘But it is hopefully setting a precedent to think about these reefs differently.’


Urine for a Treat

Allgeier has spent years studying pee, determining in incredible detail how the fish and invertebrates of the Caribbean urinate. His number one research focus, along with other groundbreaking studies over the last 30 years, reveals a surprising truth: that reefs are urine-soaked wonders.

Whether it’s phosphorus from their anuses or ammonium from their gills, fish spritz reefs with nutrients in just the right ratio and form for corals. This recycling is crucial, since many of the world’s coral reefs don’t get much in the way of new nutrients. Nutrients flow up the ecosystem in the form of food—and back down again out the back end.

‘We’re used to hearing about excess nutrients, and we’re forgetting about ecosystems where nutrients are hard to come by,’ says University of Georgia ecologist Amy Rosemond, one of Allgeier’s mentors. ‘When you’re talking about this tight cycling on a reef, these biologically available nutrients are mainly coming from fish excretion…’

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The Corps covers their muddy trail…


A ‘catastrophic’ outbreak of disease, not mud churned up by the $205 million ‘Deep Dredge‘ at PortMiami, killed coral in Government Cut, according to a report issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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The Pacific is About to Get a Massive New Ocean Reserve…

Picture of palau from the air

“A tiny island country in the western Pacific Ocean that’s smaller than New York City has approved the creation of an enormous marine reserve that’s bigger than the U.S. state of California.
The nation of Palau is moving forward with creating a reserve that’s about 193,000 square miles (500,000 square kilometers) in size. This would make it one of the five largest fully protected marine areas in the world.”

-By Jane J. Lee, National Geographic

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Scientists say a dramatic worldwide coral bleaching event is now underway…


“For just the third time on record, scientists say they are now watching the unfolding of a massive worldwide coral bleaching event, spanning the globe from Hawaii to the Indian Ocean. And they fear that thanks to warm sea temperatures, the ultimate result could be the loss of more than 12,000 square kilometers, or over 4,500 square miles, of coral this year — with particularly strong impacts in Hawaii and other U.S. tropical regions, and potentially continuing into 2016.”

-By Chris Mooney, The Washington Post

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