Monday, April 30, 2007

Hot coral action in cold UK waters

This morning Today (BBC Radio 4) reported on spawning by pink sea fans at the London aquarium. Rachel Jones said this was the first time this has been observed in captivity, while Steve Jones (whose recent book is reviewed here) refered to limited success with replanting of Red Coral in the Mediterranean, and was sceptical that much could be done to slow global extinction. The 'listen again' snippet is here.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

'The Burning Issue'

What are the impacts of large forest and peatland fires in South East Asia on coral reefs and coastal ecosystems? The question looks as relevant as ever this year.

David J. Lohman, David Bickford and Navjot S. Sodhi report that fires to clear land in S E Asia in 1998 caused between $4.4 and $7.9bn worth of damage [to terrestrial economic activity, I assume] and released between 0.81 and 2.57 gigatons of carbon (The Burning Issue, Science Vol 316, 20 April).

They write, too, that using fire to clear land has been illegal in Indonesia since 1995, that a zero burning policy was ratified by ASEAN in 1999, but that farmers throughout the region and plantations in Indonesia continue to ignore the ban:
'Solutions to the haze problem are needed before the onset of the dry season in June, as 2007 may be another El Niño year. Lessons learned from this catastrophe may help ameliorate similar smoke-haze episodes in Amazonia, Africa, and other parts of Asia.
A message to all readers: please let me know if you have further information, or reference to studies on the impacts of these fires on the marine environment. You can attach a comment on this post or e mail via the contact details given on the complete profile page of this site.

(see also How to destroy a planet)

[P.S. 2 May: plus Climate change lessons in Indonesia]

Friday, April 20, 2007

'Land reform for the seas'

'Europe should lead worldwide efforts to protect the oceans to prevent collapse of commercial fisheries by 2050. With three-quarters of the world's fish stocks already fully exploited or depleted, the oceans urgently need better regulation of fishing and other commercial activities' - continues in this IUCN press release (which follows this one on 13 April calling for a 'dramatic increase in ocean protection')

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Palau no-take model and global warming

No-Fishing Zones in Tropics Yield Fast Payoffs for Reefs by Christopher Pala in the New York Times neatly summarises some of the lessons learned in Palau and elsewhere about how to manage fish stocks more sustainably, and reports ambitions to replicate the approach in some Caribbean countries and Indonesia.

Noah Idechong of the Palau Conservation Society has successfully pressed for the extension of reef protection to areas in Palau that "best resist bleaching, or recover fastest from it". His achievements, including this one, are remarkable, and he has been widely hailed for them (see, for example here and here).

It has been claimed, at ITMEMS and elsewhere, that an approach to management that takes special account of reefs that resist and recover from bleaching offers the best practicable strategy in many circumstances in the face of rising sea temperatures (assuming, of course, that other human pressures are brought under control). 'Reslience' has become a buzzword in tropical marine conservation management.

As noted here, the IPCC WGII summary includes language that allows for the possibility of thermal adaptation or acclimatisation by corals to temperature rises of up to 3°C during the 21st century. But I have yet to encounter a scientist who thinks corals really could adapt to such rapid change (see, for example The canary and the parrot).

[P.S. 6pm 17 April: I have now talked to a scientist who says that one should not rule out the possibility that corals have the capacity to adapt this fast; but he is careful about going on the record, seeking to minimise the chances of being quoted out of context]

Monday, April 16, 2007

'What if coral reefs completely disappear?'

asks Alan Farago after snorkelling in the Virgin Islands.

(Thanks to Paul Ehrlich's list for pointing to this article; not bad as general awareness-raising goes, although 250 years separates Shakespeare from the Black Death, there may be more like four dimensions than three if you include time, and it may be a lot more than tens of thousands of years of evolution that may break apart.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Not all destruction is by Man

Massive Coral Death Attributed to Earthquake, a 12 April press release about findings from Sumatra, is a reminder of the stupendous power of plate tectonics. Also, says Andrew Baird of ARC CoE CRS,
this is a unique opportunity to document a process that occurs maybe once a century and promises to provide new insights into coral recovery processes that until now we could only explore on fossil reefs.
He's being optimistic, then, about the potential for natural recovery in the face of human pressures.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The IPCC drafts

Differences in the IPCC Working Group 2 Summary before and after political negotiations are posted here. With regard to coral reefs there are at least these changes.

Page 9, original:
It is likely that corals will experience a major decline due to increased bleaching and mortality due to rising seawater temperatures. Salt marshes and mangroves will be negatively affected by sea-level rise.
After political negotiation:
Corals are vulnerable to thermal stress and have low adaptive capacity. Increases in sea surface temperature of about 1 to 3°C are projected to result in more frequent coral bleaching events and widespread mortality, unless there is thermal adaptation or acclimatisation by corals.
Page 12, original:
Increases in sea surface temperature are likely to have adverse effects on Mesoamerican coral reefs, and shifts in the location of south-east Pacific fish stocks.
After political negotiation
Increases in sea surface temperature due to climate change are projected to have adverse effects on Mesoamerican coral reefs, and cause shifts in the location of south-east Pacific fish stocks.
(see also More on IPCC censorship)

[P.S. I missed a 10 April response on Coral List from John Hocevar, Senior Oceans Specialist at Greenpeace USA, to my 7 April post about IPCC WGII on this blog. For ease of access, a copy is now attached as comment to this post]

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

'Plenty big noise'

'The seismic jolt that unleashed the deadly Solomons tsunami this week lifted an entire island metres out of the sea, destroying some of the world's most pristine coral reefs'. -- the report continues here.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Censoring the IPCC on coral reefs?

More information on what was excised/censored from the summary of the IPCC Working Group II report (published yesterday) will probably leak out with time (some early pointers are noted in Grains of Sand, Baconbutty plus Dire warming report too soft, scientists say in the Los Angeles Times).

I have noticed one specific reference to excision with regard to coral reefs in news reports so far. James Kanter and Andy Revkin write in the New York Times (emphasis added):
Under pressure from nations including Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, the authors said, sections on coral damage and tropical storms were softened in the summary. They also got the authors to drop parts of an illustration showing how different emissions policies might limit damage.
It would be interesting to know what has been dropped. For reference, a comment attached to this post lists all the mentions of coral and coral reefs in the published IPCC summary.

If anyone has further information please let us know!

100 million years and death

Well done to the organisers of The Great Turtle Race for finding a positive, upbeat way of raising awareness about the fate of Leatherback Turtles, the world's largest living reptile. The 'race' they are tracking with satnav from 13 April goes from Costa Rica to the Galapagos.

Last August I was in West Papua on what is thought to be one of the last beaches where Leatherbacks nest in the entire western Pacific (where Leatherbacks are even rarer and more endangered than in the eastern Pacific, the region of the 'race'). We watched females laying their eggs. It was one of the most extraordinary and wonderful things I have seen, and I will write about it some day.

As the Great Turtle Race people say, 'Leatherbacks are 100 million years old. They may only have 10 years left'.