Friday, March 17, 2017

Dead ahead

"We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years"
Terry P. Hughes to The New York Times, 15 March 2017 (link).  See also 'Global warming and the current mass bleaching of corals', Nature, 16 March 2017 (link)

Saturday, September 03, 2011

"It's like I was living a new life"

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


If [pressures on reefs are ]left unchecked, more than 90 percent of reefs will be threatened by 2030 and nearly all reefs will be at risk by 2050.
-- Reefs at Risk revisited.

Thomas Goreau says:
These are the usual underestimates by people who never saw the reefs when they were good, and only began monitoring after most of the corals were gone! 90% of coral reefs are ALREADY severely damaged, and ALL probably will be within another 5 years.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A steep path

A combination of greenhouse gas mitigation and improved coral reef management will be required to avoid the degradation of the world’s coral reef ecosystems from frequent mass coral bleaching events. Actions that enhance reef resistance and reef resilience - including protection of bleaching-resistant reefs, reduction of other stressors, and possibly even more radical suggestions like “seeding” reefs with more temperature-tolerant species of Symbiodinium – may be necessary to help coral reef ecosystems endure through the committed warming over the next several decades. These management actions, while important, will alone prove to be insufficient to protect coral reefs through the latter half of the century. The difference between the future scenarios presented in this study demonstrates that protecting the world’s coral reefs from increasing thermal stress will require a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next several decades.
-- from Coping with Commitment (PLOS) by Simon Donner.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

GBR 'spectacular' recovery

A "lucky combination" of rare circumstances has meant the GBR has been able to make a recovery from the 2006 bleaching event.

See: article, Climate Shifts and the paper: 'Doom and Boom'

Image: Envisat

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

'Conservation plan would keep islanders in exile'

Fred Pearce reports on a controversy over Chagos.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


A study that found a decline in calcification rates on the Great Barrier Reef (see Getting lumpy on the GBR) has recently received widespread media attention -- widespread, that is, compared to many stories that concern coral reefs.

Another recent story, reported by the BBC as Coral springs back from tsunami [1], would seem, at least for the non-specialist reader on first sight, to point in the opposite direction. But according Tom Goreau:
Indonesia has the highest rate of new coral settlement in the world, so areas that suffer only from physical devastation, and do not have high temperature, mud, or nutrients, do gradually get covered with corals. [It] takes...5-10 years or so in the best spots there, much longer elsewhere. But this is not resilience in the sense of resistance to stress, it is recovery via new recruitment, which is increasingly less frequent. It is like after the 1998 bleaching event in the Indian Ocean, when the [Big International NGOs] started touting reef "recovery" when they really only meant that the dying had stopped. The amount of new recruits in most of those places has been negligible to minor.

[1] Indonesia's coral reefs return to life in The Australian.

Friday, January 02, 2009

GBR update

Getting lumpy on the GBR at The Book of Barely Imagined Beings.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chagos islanders lose battle to return

The story is here.

Friday, July 18, 2008


At Maribo (The fierce urgency of now), Simon Donner expresses disappointment at what he sees as a well intentioned but weak efforts at the ICRS to communicate the importance of conservation. There are some interesting comments in the thread (although mine may be 'over the top').

Sadé Council from Time writes to recommend a recent article, Coral Reefs Face Extinction, and photo gallery in that magazine.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


News and reports from the International Coral Reef Symposium here. Highlights for 7 July included:
Presentation of a check [cheque] for US $1,100,000 (approx Euro 700,000, GBP 556,000) from the U.S. Federal government for coral reef research in the U.S.

Launch of The Status of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States Report

Forecasting Storm Mediated Changes in Reef Coral Assemblages (J. Madin, M. O’Donnell, S. Connolly)

Is 500 ppm Co2 and 2 C of Warming the 'Tipping Point' for Coral Reefs? If So, How Should We Respond? (O. Hoegh-Guldberg)
A blog here reports live from the symposium.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reefs and responsibility

...Coral reefs, the rainforest of the ocean, are home for one-third of the species in the sea. Coral reefs are under stress for several reasons, including warming of the ocean, but especially because of ocean acidification, a direct effect of added carbon dioxide. Ocean life dependent on carbonate shells and skeletons is threatened by dissolution as the ocean becomes more acid...
-- James Hansen in a talk to the National Press Club, and briefing to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence & Global Warming, 23 June 2008.
...CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.

Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species would leave a more desolate planet...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Grief in time

A version of this review is to appear shortly on

Caspar Henderson reviews
A Reef in Time - The Great Barrier Reef from Beginning to End
by J. E. N. Veron

Why care about the loss of biodiversity? A simple answer is that not doing so will be more expensive than doing so. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, a report published in May of this year by the German government and the European Commission, suggests that current rates of natural decline might reduce global GDP by 7% by 2050, with the world’s poorest people affected the most. But even if this cautious estimate turns out to be right it is unlikely to tell the whole story.

To see why, consider the Great Barrier Reef on the northeast coast of Australia, the largest single structure on Earth made by living organisms. Tropical coral reefs reefs are the most diverse, beautiful and intricate assemblages of life in the oceans, arguably on the planet, hosting about a quarter of all ocean species in less than 0.1% of its area. They provide food and vital ecosystem services to hundreds of millions of people in more than 100 countries. The Great Barrier Reef (GBR), the largest UNESCO World Heritage reef area on earth, forms the southern border of the global centre of reef biodiversity in Southeast Asia, and is the only extensive area of reef in within the territory of the rich industrialised country with the resources and expertise to protect it.

And one could not ask for a better guide to the GBR than J. E. N. Veron, the former Chief Scientist with the Australian Institute of Marine Science. ‘Charlie’ Veron is author of the monumental three volume Corals of the World, and is credited with having identified one in four species of coral that are known today. This is the work of an outstanding scientific mind informed by close observation over more than forty years, and by love.

Since the book appeared Veron has explained why he wrote it on, (the blog of Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a lead author on a key paper on the future of the world’s coral reefs. DOI: 10.1126/science.1152509). Veron writes:
It may seem preposterous that the greatest coral reef in the world – the biggest structure made by life on Earth – could be seriously (I mean genuinely seriously) threatened by climate change. The question itself is probably already relegated in your mind to a ‘here-we-go-again’ catch-bag of greenie diatribe about the state of our planet. This view is understandable given that even a decade ago, there were many scientists who had not yet come to grips with the full implications of climate change.

Very likely you have a feeling that dire predictions about anything almost always turn out to be exaggerations. What you really think is: OK, where there’s smoke there’s fire, so there’s probably something in this to be worried about, somewhere. But, it won’t be as bad as those doom-sayers are predicting. When I started writing ‘A Reef in Time’, I knew that climate change was likely to have serious consequences for coral reefs, but even I was shocked to the core by what all the best science that existed was saying. In a long phase of personal anguish I turned to specialists in many different fields of science to find anything that might suggest a fault in my own conclusions. No luck. The bottom line remains: the GBR can indeed be utterly trashed in the lifetime of today’s children. That certainty is what motivates me to broadcast this message as clearly, as accurately and, yes, as loudly, as I can.
But this book does more than simply convey the central message that climate change – and in particular ocean acidification – threaten to destroy the GBR, and that action to avert this should be a top priority. It also does at least two other useful things. One, it provides a brilliantly clear and authoritative introduction to much of the history of life on earth via a focus on some of the most productive ecosystems in the seven tenths that is ocean. Two, it conveys the stupendous enormity of a mass extinction event which – unless somehow averted – is likely to be the biggest in sixty five million years (i.e. since the K-T). Only five extinctions on such a scale have occurred since multicellular life began more than five hundred million years ago.

The book is also fascinating in its detailed account of the GBR itself, including a plausible account of a 'stone age Utopia' in which aborginal peoples may have lived in caves under what, today (following a rapid rise in sea level at the end of the last glaciation about 11,500 years ago), are coral reefs. [Over the same time frame, Veron points out, limestone caves in southwestern France and northern Spain were decorated with beautiful paintings: Chauvet from 30,000 years ago, Lascaux from 17,000 years ago[1]).

So what hope for the future? The English novelist Ian McEwan has written recently of the strong undertow of apocalyptic thinking in the Christian and Muslim traditions, among others, and the real and present danger this presents to the global community. McEwan hopes that the spirit of curiosity and science may provide an antidote: ‘Where [environmental and other] calamities are posed as mere possibilities in an open-ended future that might be headed off by wise human agency, we cannot consider them as apocalyptic. They are minatory, they are calls to action.’ But he worries that the narrative of science and human reason has only a tenuous hold.

This has to change, and it can do so, if leading scientists such as Veron and many others continue to make the case for a future in which global concentrations of greenhouse gases are held to much lower levels than current trends indicate. It will also require millions and millions of individual and community decisions to engage in political, economic and cultural change. Australia and China, for example, will need to look again at ways they are generating prosperity in the short term by, for example, the massive extraction and combustion of coal (see, for example Good days: Australia prospers from China’s resource needs, Financial Times, 2 April 2008). Fine words from politicians do not scrub carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Veron warns that by 2030 it will be too late. ‘We have to change’, he says, ‘I believe humans are good at change. But there is not an ounce of hope in a world that wants to procrastinate’.

Veron’s book ends a warning from the earth systems scientist James Lovelock made before the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, but which has an added poignancy after it:
The planet we live on has merely to shrug to take some faction of a million people to their death. But this is nothing compared with what may soon happen; we are now abusing the Earth that it may rise and move back to the hot state it was in fifty-five million years ago [i.e. the PETM] , and if does most of us, and our descendents, will die.
Caspar Henderson is writing The Book of Barely Imagined Beings – an exploration of the current extinction event and what comes next. He reviewed Coral by Steve Jones here.

Footnote 1: 'Humans have certainly occupied Australia for 45,000 plus or minus 9,000 years, and, based on current evidence, 53,000 to 60,000 years is the most probable time of original occupation. The oldest human remains, those of Mungo man [are] now the source of the oldest human DNA in the world'. -- Veron, page 178. The earliest known evidence for marine fishing, dating from 32,000 years ago, is from the Huon Peninsular of what is now New Guinea but would at that time have been joined to continental Australia by a land bridge (ibid 180).

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Coral Bones emerges momentarily from hibernation to note Reef Ramblings on Arthur C. Clarke – Pioneer of Scuba Diving and Reef Exploration.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

On hold

There are unlikely to be more posts on Coral Bones, at least for a little while. (I do, however, continue to blog on a variety of topics at Grains of Sand.)

I'd like to express my admiration for some remarkable people I have encountered (virtually or in real life) over the last few years. They are engaged in urgent struggles for understanding, justice and the protection of natural wonders, and deserve more support.

There are many sources of information on the future of coral reefs on the web. Some of them are listed in the links section on the right hand side of this page. Happy 'International Year of the Reef'!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Death sentences

In Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and sixteen other distinguished marine scientists call for... decisive action.

Photos: extant examples of reefs from the Great Barrier Reef that are used as analogs for the ecological structures anticipated under the paper's coral reef scenarios. Photos by O. Hoegh-Guldberg.

A post on Dot Earth, Carbon Dioxide Is Double Threat to Reefs, summarises non-technically.

P.S. 14 Dec: The Guardian reports this as Acidic seas may kill 98% of world's reefs by 2050.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Reefs and carbon sequestration

On 7 Dec, the Jakarta Post reported Asia to push coral reef into Kyoto system:
Indonesia and five other countries within the Asia and Pacific regions announced Thursday they will propose a huge global contribution from their marine and coral reefs to absorb carbon, to be taken into account...within the protocol.
But leading marine scientists say there slim to no grounds for claiming reefs as carbon sinks. Stuart Campbell of the Wildlife Conservation Society wrote on Coral List (7 Dec):
today’s Jakarta Post...claim[s] that the reefs of the Coral Triangle....act as sink for around 245 million tons of carbon per year. My reading of the literature suggests that reefs both act as sinks and sources of atmospheric carbon - depending on their productivity rates and many other factors - this is a complex issue and a publication by Kinsey and Hopley (1991) suggests that globally coral reefs act as a sink for 111 million tons of carbon each year, "the equivalent of 2% of present (that was 1991) output of anthropogenic CO2". But there are many complicating fators including production rates of reefs and their effect on the reduction of pH, solubility of CO2 and its release to the atmosphere. Generally the literature I have read suggests that coral reefs contribute to the global greenhouse effect, but in a way that is part of the natural cycle of inorganic carbon in and out of the atmosphere. I'd be interested in any recent publications that provide updated information on this issue or anyone who knows where the estimate of 245 millions tons of CO2 for the Coral Triangle Region came from?
Tom Goreau responded:
The claim that coral reefs are a CO2 sink is completely incorrect. They are in fact a source of CO2 to the atmosphere even while they remove carbon from the ocean. This has been understood by carbonate chemists for a long time but we keep having to deal with this popular error over and over again.

Because the ocean is a pH buffered system in which electrical charge is conserved, for every atom of bicarbonate in seawater that is converted to carbonate and deposited as limestone one molecule of bicarbonate is converted to carbonic acid and then to CO2 to balance the charge. So in effect for each atom of carbon removed from the ocean into limestone, one atom is released as CO2 to the atmosphere.

On a geological time scale limestone deposition and volcanic emissions are the two major sources of atmospheric CO2 (since photosynthesis and respiration plus decomposition balance). Atmospheric CO2 in turn dissolves in fresh water, where it is the major acid once it ionizes, and is then neutralized by chemical weathering of limestone on land and of igneous and metamorphic rocks, being converted into bicarbonate which washes into the sea, resuming the cycle.

Half of all the limestone buried in the sea is buried in coral reefs (since most open oceanic production dissolves in the deep sea), but to put it into perspective, this natural source of CO2 is 50 times smaller than fossil fuel input, showing how seriously we have perturbed the natural carbon cycles.

The only way that reefs could be a CO2 sink would be if they were autotrophic ecosystems that buried most of the algae carbon before it could decompose. But in fact reef sediments have very low buried organic carbon content, because the organic carbon is almost entirely decomposed. In fact, reefs are not autotrophic at all, they are heterotrophic systems that rely on external organic carbon input from land and oceanic zooplankton. Whenever I have measured oxygen in a reef it has always been below saturation, except directly over dense shallow seagrass beds in full sunlight. Overall the reef organic carbon cycle is consuming oxygen and producing CO2, as well as the CO2 produced by limestone deposition.

Coral reefs are the first and worst victims of global warming, but they do not contribute to removing CO2 form the atmosphere at all. We must save them for their biodiversity, fisheries, shore protection, and tourism services, not because of false and misguided claims that they are carbon sinks.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Catch less to get richer

Economics of Overexploitation Revisited shows in four disparate fisheries that dynamic maximum economic yield can exceed maximum sustained yield.

"This means that if you reduce the harvest now, you'll actually be better off", says co-author Quentin Grafton
(Catch cuts 'bring bigger profits').

The fisheries studied include long-lived and slow-growing orange roughy which live on seamounts rich in benthic life including cold water corals.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ecotourism 'benefits nature and reduces poverty'

I've been critical of ecotourism in the past, perhaps intemperately so. Conceding that "there is substantial evidence that well run eco-tourism projects can bring substantial benefits to a few poor communities", I have asserted:
too many poor people in the world are dependent on primary resources such as reefs and forests ever to be reached by eco-tourists. This great majority will not receive the benefit of eco-tourist dollars but will suffer the impact of the tourists’ pollution. Very often eco-tourism is a stalking horse mass tourism, which is hugely destructive of the environment in both the short and long run. (from Holidays on Death Row at
Still, it is good to see further evidence that well run eco-tourism projects can benefit communities that depend on coral reefs. Nature's Investment Bank, a report from The Nature Conservancy draws on interviews with more than 1000 people in four recently protected marine zones in Fiji, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands. "In every case, the conservation schemes had boosted fish catches and helped create new jobs." The common factor in each case, say co-authors Craig Leisher, Peter van Beukering and Lea M. Scherl were:
the heavy involvement of the local community in the creation of the protection zone, the legal designation of "no catch" zones where fish could breed, and the policing of these zones by government agencies. In all four cases, action was taken after a collapse in fish populations through overfishing by outsiders.
There has to be a sense of crisis before people are willing to change the status quo dramatically.
News reports here and here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Under the sun

Nothing new, as far as I can see, in the Reuters feature 'Indonesia's corals threatened by climate change'; yet another heads-up ahead of the negotiations in Bali.

'The Amazon of the Seas' for the Coral Triangle may be a new-ish marketing term. Conservation organisations like WWF and CI started using Wallacea a few years ago to describe the terrestrial biomes at the centre of this amazing area, but that name - after Alfred Russel Wallace - is more obscure and, perhaps, Euro-centric.

HMG and Chagos

10 Downing Street has responded to a petition (noted on this blog here) asking the Prime Minister "to drop the [UK government's] appeal against the Chagos islanders' right to go home." It says:
[the former Foreign Secretary] decided to seek permission to appeal because our treaty obligations to the United States require the Territory be kept "for the defence needs" of both governments and our 2002 feasibility study came down heavily against the feasibility of resettlement.

The Court Of Appeal's judgment also raised issues of constitutional law of general public importance that, in her view, would adversely affect the effective governance of all British Overseas Territories. This would include confusion in the legal system applied in those Overseas Territories, and potential conflicts between local and English courts. For these reasons, the former Foreign Secretary thought it to be in the public interest that the effect of the Court of Appeal's judgment, even if correct, should be clarified.

Permission to appeal was granted by the House of Lords on condition that the Chagossians' costs were met by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Given the public interest the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband has accepted this condition. The Government expect the case to be heard by the House of Lords in 2008.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tough love and resilience

Tim McClanahan, a Senior Conservation Zoologist with Wildlife Conservation Society who is based in Kenya, circulates notice of a new paper making a case for some good news. Here is his non-technical summary:

The future of coral reefs is precarious and continues to look bleaker as more and more seas report bleaching and further losses of living cover on reefs due to pulses of warm water. This has sent coral reef scientists and managers searching for locations where corals thrive and that are cool and likely to stay cool as climate heats up in the coming decades. The hope is to insure that these cool spots will provide a refuge for corals and to give them the highest levels of protection, in order that at least some corals and living reefs survive climate change. Unfortunately, the number of such places are few and located in areas that often do not support flourishing coral reefs and their legendary biological diversity, resulting in a future that many informed marine biologists see as few scattered spots of uninspiring diversity in a sea of chalky reef skeletons. Not what they have come to expect from this underwater Eden.

But a recently published study documenting the change in coral reefs over the past 10 years in East Africa has considerably brightened this gloomy picture. The authors have identified another environment where high diversity corals may survive and possibly thrive. Ironically, these tropical seas are both warm and have among the fastest rising seawater temperatures, but what makes them different from many other reefs is that the temperature of the water is highly variable across seasons and years and this appears to give them the tough love that helps them survive the rare and deadly hot pulses that devastate their more pampered cousins. The study finds that these areas are often found around islands in the shadows of ocean currents where current speeds are slowed and where water temperatures fluctuate accordingly, but may also be found in subtropical locations that naturally fluctuate with seasons. This study and a companion study found that these reefs are among the most species diverse reefs, equally high in numbers of species to reefs found in environments with less seasonal and yearly fluctuations. This study shows that it is not just the high stability of tropical environments that creates high biological diversity but also fluctuations that prepare them for the unexpected and this may allow them to persist in what is becoming an increasingly hostile environment.

for further detail see: Effects of climate and seawater temperature variation on coral bleaching and mortality by T. R. McClanahan, M. Ateweberhan, C. Muhando, J. Maina, and S. M. Mohammed. Ecological Monographs, 74: 503- 525.

'On speaking before Al Gore'

This came in yesterday from Tom Goreau, who is on his way to the Sustainable Mariculture Conference in Makassar before attending the Bali climate change conference as advisor to the delegations of Jamaica and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre:


Tom Goreau, President, Global Coral Reef Alliance
November 24 2007

On November 20 2007 I spoke before Al Gore at the Global Warming Conference organized by the Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands. “Before” in the temporal sense of being the speaker scheduled just prior to Al Gore, not before in the spatial sense of being physically in the same room. Al Gore arrived a minute before his speech and left seconds after. He briefly met the Prime Minister, the Minister of Environment, the Governor, their wives, and the deputy head of the World Tourism Organization, but none of the other speakers. (In the interests of full disclosure, I was the first person to show data conclusively establishing the link between global warming and large-scale coral bleaching, to Al Gore’s Senate Panel in 1990, which was vilified and then ignored, but which led directly to the International Coral Reef Initiative when he became Vice President in 1993. Both his name and mine come from an old French word for a little pig.)

Al Gore gave a nearly hour-long speech that was gracious, charming, and packed full of homilies that “the future was in our hands”, and that “young people should learn about the environment”. But it contained absolutely no specific information, analysis, or strategy about climate change whatsoever. It was a rote feel-good speech, lacking any visual props, typical of political and religious exhortations, to which he added an opening sentence about how beautiful the Turks and Caicos were and how he would be back (rousing applause), and an ending sentence for local color that the “Caribbean should unite in the face of climate change” (covered in the press worldwide), although no specific suggestions were offered. The only practical tactical response to climate change he made was that he hoped young people would lie down in front of trucks building new coal-fired power plants.

My 20 minute speech “before” Al Gore showed that the last time that global temperatures were 1 degree C above today’s levels 125,000 years ago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas, and Jamaica were swept by waves of a magnitude that we have never experienced, that sea levels were 25 feet higher, and that crocodiles and hippopotamuses lived in London, England.

It pointed out that since CO2 was one third lower then than it already is now, those conditions underestimate what will happen if we add absolutely no further CO2 to the atmosphere. It showed how and why IPCC projections seriously and systematically underestimate future climate change sensitivity, which the past climate record clearly shows, by failing to account for either the major positive feedback mechanisms or the full time scale of climate system responses.

It emphasized that adaptation is only a stopgap measure, but for long-term climate stability the CO2 already in the atmosphere must be reduced by at least a third, not allowed to rise further as it would if the Kyoto Protocol was enforced. It summarized the history of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and how the original draft prepared by the UN (which I had a hand in writing) was turned by governments into scientific nonsense, promotes carbon accounting fraud, rewards bogus carbon sinks and penalizes the real ones, was incapable of meeting its own goals to protect the most climatically sensitive ecosystems, and therefore is a death sentence for coral reefs and low lying island nations.

It demonstrated why coral reefs could take no further warming, how the global coral reef satellite sea surface temperature data base I developed had predicted coral bleaching accurately for decades, showed global trends that indicate much worse is imminent, and revealed for the first time that changes in ocean circulation are already underway worldwide and destroying fisheries from the bottom up. It showed photos of how we had kept coral reefs alive in places where they would have died from heat stroke by giving the corals 3-5 times faster growth rates and 16-50 times higher survival, how we restored coral reefs and fisheries in a few years in places in the Caribbean, Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia where they could not recover naturally, and how we turned beaches in the Maldives that were being severely eroded by sea level rise into growing ones.

It explained how CO2 could be removed from the atmosphere and stored in ways that greatly increased soil fertility by improving ancient, but until recently lost, methods of Amazonian Indians. It discussed the need for small island developing states to adopt new, proven, but currently unutilized technologies to tap tidal energy to prevent CO2 emissions and to recycle wastes and renewable biomass into clean water, fertilizer, and gaseous and liquid fuels. It argued the need to build large-scale ecosystem restoration into climate change treaties as critical to stabilizing climate, soil, water, fisheries, and biodiversity resources. It outlined tactics and strategy that Small Island States could pursue in the UN Climate Summit in Bali to turn it into a scientifically sound tool for effective action. It summarized many unexpected findings from our extensive survey of the health of Turks and Caicos reefs last year, and the implications for their management.

Later, many people kindly told me that they learned more from my speech than all the rest put together. The Turks and Caicos Government paid Al Gore [what is reported to be a six figure sum] for his celebrity photo-op advice. They paid me precisely nothing. The publicity was directly proportional to the money paid. Gored again!

The handwriting is now undeniably on the wall, in both planetary and personal senses. Without unimaginably radical changes in the next weeks, right after the UN Climate Change Summit in Bali I’ll be forced to quit my quixotic endeavours, and take a job asking the public if their hamburger is to go and if they want ketchup on their fries.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Tsunami damage report

At the time, there was much comment in the media, not all of it well-informed, about the impact of the Sumatra-Andaman tsunami of 26 December 2004 on coral reefs across the Indian Ocean. Andrew Baird notifies that an edition of the Atoll Research Bulletin devoted to this issue, no. 544, is now available on line.

In one of the papers, Baird and colleagues report on findings in Aceh. They write:
the initial damage to corals, while occasionally spectacular, was surprisingly limited and trivial when compared to pre-existing damage most probably caused by destructive fishing practices.

Hope in Buton

John French, whose recent work also includes revolutionary undergarments, has drawn an introduction to a seaweed farming project in Buton, Indonesia supported by Oxfam which, it's hoped, may help local people whose reefs are at risk to generate income.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Project Sea Camel is posting a series of underwarer classes about corals and other marine organisms on YouTube here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Soft corals 'melt due to global warming'

It's too late. We have now actually missed the boat in finding some key pharmaceuticals. There is a huge gap in our knowledge of soft corals in the reef environment, and with the rate of extinction, we have lost certain species forever.
-- says Hudi Benayahu of Tel Aviv University.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


John Bohannon's lively account of the Genoa Festival of Science (Celebrating Food, Feces, and 3 Billion Years of Evolution) links to Beginnings, an excerpt from Life with photography by Frans Lanting, music by Philip Glass and video by Alexander V. Nichols.

I think the excerpt is beautiful and worth watching. It covers the development and emergence of single and then multi-cellular life forms in the sea, but does not of course pretend to be comprehensive, and makes some poetic short cuts. It includes marvellous images of stromatolites, probably the first reef builders, and modern corals, which differ significantly from their ancient ancestors, and modern jellyfish which look, at least superficially, like those of the Middle Cambrian (500 Million Years Ago, Jellyfish Left Their Mark in Fine Sea Sediments).

Monday, November 05, 2007


Carl Hiaassen writes that "One of South Florida's dirtiest secrets is the daily dumping of a half-billion gallons of sewage into the Atlantic Ocean":
Among reputable marine scientists there is little debate. Sewage contains higher levels of nitrogen, ammonia and other contaminants that are widely believed to promote algae blooms and disease in coral communities.

As coral formations die off, fish, lobsters and sea turtles lose critical habitat.

Your average second-grader has no difficulty understanding that polluting the ocean has unhealthy consequences, but [the politicians] are slow learners.
[Hat tip to GCRA]

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Happy 55th!

To Ivy-Mike and the thermonuclear age.

The fireball was over 3 miles (5 km) wide, and the mushroom cloud rose to an altitude of 57,000 feet (17.0 km) in less than 90 seconds. One minute later it had reached 108,000 feet (33.0 km), before stabilizing at 120,000 feet (37.0 km) with the top eventually spreading out to a diameter of 100 miles (161 km) with a stem 20 miles (32 km) wide.

The blast created a crater 6,240 feet (1.9 km) in diameter and 164 feet (50 m) deep where Elugelab had once been; the blast and water waves from the explosion (some waves up to twenty feet high) stripped the test islands clean of vegetation, as observed by a helicopter survey within 60 minutes after the test, by which time the mushroom cloud and steam had been blown away. Irradiated coral debris fell upon ships stationed 30 miles (48 km) from the blast, and the immediate area around the atoll was heavily contaminated for some time.