Monday, June 26, 2006

Greenpeace in the Red Sea

Seeing Red by Alex on the Esperanza

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Humans have wrecked reefs in 30 years"

Humans have caused more damage in the past 30 years than the reefs have experienced at any time in the last 220,000 years, say Jeremy Jackson and John Pandolfi according to a report in New Scientist of their paper in Ecology Letters, vol 9, p 818

The fossil record shows that reefs near Barbados had been dominated by a large branching species called Elkhorn coral as recently as a century ago, and until then had survived intact through hurricanes, climate change and geological movement. Yet now they are overwhelmed by algae and seaweed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Berau MPA

A WWF report on a plans to create a marine protected area (MPA) over 1.2 million hectares off the eastern coast of the Derawan Archipelago in the Sulawesi Sea is here.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

George's curious surprise

No, not the visit to Baghdad -- another one. The Bush administration "plans a vast protected sea area for the Northwestern Hawaiian islands", Andrew Revkin reports in the New York Times today.

The 1,200 mile long chain of islands is said to host at least 7,000 species of marine life, and covers square 140,0000 miles - an area nearly the size of California.

"Since the Clinton administration, environmental campaigners had pushed for marine sanctuary status for the area", says Revkin, "and as recently as early last night they were girding for months of public debate over the proposed sanctuary rules with a few groups representing Pacific fish-processing companies and fishing fleets".

Hawaii lies at the northern edge of the zone for warm water (zooxanthellate) reef building corals. As such it may be that they have less little biodiversity than many parts of the Pacific. There may be an analogue with Bermudan corals in the Atlantic, which James Crabbe notes are "very 'vibrant', with good cover, vitality and fish life", although there are no branching corals.

The administration's move looks astute. It appears bold but is likely to cost little.

[P.S. the wiki people have got to work quickly and produced this entry]

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Coral heritage petition

I've been tardy in noting reports such as Roger Harrabin's (radio and online) regarding a petition pressing the United Nations World Heritage Sites Committee to acknowledge that climate change is already damaging sites such as the Great Barrier and the Belize Barrier Reefs.

Harrabin notes that there will be determined opposition, with objections such as:
  • There is no conclusive proof that the reefs are being damaged by greenhouse gas emissions
  • Any damage to the reef is accidental, so it does not breach the World Heritage Sites Treaty
  • Accepting the petition on a controversial issue such as climate change would spoil the harmonious relations of the World Heritage Committee
How would these objections would fare under legal and scientific scrutiny, not to speak of the court of public opinion? How will they fare at the WHC, which meets between 8 and 16 July?

(for a further comment on some legal questions, see US "legally obliged" to protect reefs)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"Hope for coral"

Reporting on environmental issues can sometimes seem like the situation in the Gary Larson cartoon in which a bunch of cows are grazing in a field, one of them looks up and says: "Wait, a minute! This is grass we´re eating! Grass!"

The point being that the same things can come round again and again, but they´re not always terribly new.

So it looks with ´Hope for coral´ as oceans warm (BBC online). I stand to be corrected, but it looks as if the new paper by Ray Berkelmans and Madeleine van Oppen (which I have not read yet) may add some new and perhaps important matters of detail, but is unlikely to change the essential finding that corals and their symbionts can adapt a little bit to stresses such as higher temperatures -- but probably not enough to cope with predicted changes.

The "discovery" that corals can exchange their algae for varieties which survive at higher temperatures is already well known. On the plus side, the BBC article may generate interest and attention among some people who previously knew very little.

[7 June P.S. After writing this blog post, I wrote to Richard Black, the author of the BBC article, and occasioned communication with Andrew Baker and others. Andrew Baker kindly forwarded a copy of Corals´Adaptive Response to Climate Change (Nature, Vol 430, August 2004), and added there was also a piece in the New York Times on 21 Dec 2004 (see here or comment attached to this post).
Richard Black wrote that he had changed his article a bit to reflect these findings. Tom Goreau added: each "clade" is in fact made up of very many separate species of zooxanthellae, each with different temperature and light tolerances. Most corals are very fussy about just which species, not clade, they associate with. The expert on zooxanthellae genetics is Todd La Jeunesse at Florida Intentational University.]

Monday, June 05, 2006

Ocean acidification

I am writing a feature article for New Scientist about ocean acidification and coral reefs. Plenty has been written on this for non-specialist media, of course, (including this piece I commissioned over a year ago).

The aim for NS is to report on the most recent work and where scientists are going next. The article is also likely to include a precis of key points from the major papers over the last few years. I won't summarise any of it here, but will post a note on the article itself when it's available.

If you want to read something now, there is an entry on Wikipedia that looks as if it's put together by someone or two who know(s) what they're talking about. This links to a piece on RealClimate, which is accessible in a rough and ready way. If you want more detail, a good starting points is of course last June's Royal Society report. Also worth a look is this more recent paper for Ospar (hat tip Carol Turley). And if you have a recommendation or comment, please let me know!

The take home message, though, looks likely to remain that it will be "all over for [tropical] corals" (David Archer on RealClimate) thanks to higher temperatures long before acidity becomes a problem. The consequences for ecosystems at higher latitudes, however, could be "not necessarily to [their] advantage" (as the Emperor said in a different context) .

If all goes well with the article, a version will make its way into a chapter of the Coral Bones book.