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Sunscreen and Its Effects Upon Coral Reefs

A team of international researchers including professor and diver John Fauth from the University of Southern Florida have battled the sun in a study where they measured the devestating effects of a compound found in commercial Sunscreen, upon coral reefs. “The use of oxybenzone-containing products  needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue,” Downs said. “We have lost at least 80 percent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers. Everyone wants to build coral nurseries for reef restoration, but this will achieve little if the factors that originally killed off the reef remain or intensify in the environment.”  john-fauth2-548x365Laboratory experiments that exposed coral larvae and cells to increased saturated levels of oxybenzone and conclude both genetic and physical damage was done to both. Larvae exposed to levels similar to those detected in samples collected around reefs were were trapped in their own skeletons, unable to disperse into the water column. The DNA of coral cells was also inhibited or completely destroyed by Oxybenzone causing an an increase in bleaching frequency in seven different types of coral. The team concluded that: “Oxybenzone poses a hazard to coral reef conservation, and threatens the resiliency of coral reefs to climate change.” And that instead of lathering up the lotion we should “Wear rash guards or scuba wetsuits and skip all the hygienic products when you go diving,” added Fauth. “If we could do it for a week at a time, people can certainly forgo it for a few hours to help protect these reefs for our children and their children to see.” Read the abstract and purchase the paper here!… More:

P. cylindrica Found to Self-Regulate PH in Calcifying Fluids

Researchers from the University of Western Australia (Coral CoE) and the University of Queensland have found that coral colonies of Parapersis cylindrica can self-regulate the PH of their own internal calcifying fluids to combat the increase in thermal stress caused by global warming. “This is most likely only typical to corals from reefs such as Heron Island lagoon where temperature and pH fluctuations vary greatly on daily to seasonal basis. The next step in this research is to explore if P. cylindrica colonies from more stable environments also have the ability to adapt and if they too can ‘hold up’ to increased acidity,” says Georgiou. says lead author, Lucy Georgiou. 151006111632_1_900x600 These findings create a whole new approach to understanding the relation of calcifying coral to the far reaching effects of ocean acidification. Pictured here you’ll see how researchers implemented an innovative technology dubbed FOCE (Free Ocean Carbon Enrichment) that allowed them to study P. cylindrica colonies in their natural environment, and because the Heron Island lagoon undergoes dramatic daily and seasonal fluctuations in the acidity of its waters, it was  a perfect place to implement their study. “Our research shows that some corals living in dynamic reef systems (P. cylindrica) have the ability to maintain a nearly constant pH within their calcifying fluid, regardless of the pH of the surrounding environment. This enables them to continue to form their calcium carbonate skeleton even under relatively low pH conditions.” The team plans to expand on their findings and “explore what impact rising sea temperature has on the corals ability to maintain its internal pH,” concludes Georgiou. Read the entire paper here!… More:

Assessing the Esthetic Beauty of Coral Reefs

As active owners of captive reef environments we naturally appeal to the brightest coral, or most visually stunning morphologies of imported specimens, but for the first time ever scientists from San Diego State University have created a computation that will measure the esthetic “beauty” of wild coral reefs. The system developed was created through a cross-discipline model that involved mathematicians, biologists, and art historians to develop a computer model that assess photographic images of coral reefs. Researchers compiled a list of 109 visual features that the program uses to asses things like size, color intensity, and distribution of corals to determine whether or not a reef ecosystem is healthy. “Our results suggest that our perception of aesthetics is well-aligned with healthy, thriving ecosystems,” said Andreas Haas, an SDSU postdoctoral scholar and primary researcher of the study. 151110082106_1_900x600 This method of assessment was developed on the basis that our natural ability to observe and perceive a healthy environment is not merely subjective to esthetic “beauty.” The paper, ‘Can we measure beauty? Computational evaluation of coral reef aesthetics,’ was published November 10th, 2015 in the open access scientific journal PeerJ.com. “By quantifying aesthetic features of coral reef systems, this method provides a cost effective tool that also targets one of the most important socioeconomic values of coral reefs — their natural beauty,” Haas said. The model created provides an easier, and possibly less expensive option, for researchers assessing the health of coral reefs, and that will hopefully reduce the amount of time it takes for assessment. Read the entire publication here! 


Balanced Diet Aids in Bleaching Recovery

The University of Miami Rosenstiel School research team published a recent study showing the importance of a balanced diet while corals are recovering from thermal stress. The UM Rosenstiel School research team published a study back in 2015 that highlighted the critically endangered Staghorn coral and how it benefits from supplemental nutrition to withstand thermal stress, a first and only study to study a three-way interaction between the two types of nutrient enrichment and thermal stress on coral health. This study has expanded on those findings and provides given more data for thermal stress models. “We found that the coral’s resilience to thermal stress totally depends on the kind of inorganic enrichment — if it’s ‘balanced’ or not,” said Erica Towle, an alumna of the UM Rosenstiel School. Researchers tested two nutrient rich and thermally induced scenarios with Turbinaria reniformis, a calcium based coral. 151001153933_1_900x600Collected from the Red Sea specimens were placed into separate tanks and were subjected to either a nitrogen rich environment, or a nitrogen and phosphorus based environment. Both of which are common scenarios for reefs with close proximity to industrial and residential runoff. While a nitrogen rich environment coupled with zooplankton feeding made heat related bleaching events worse, an environment right in nitrogen while in combination with extra phosphorus and zooplankton provide the coral nutrient-based resilience to bleaching. “Excess nutrients from land sources and thermal stress will likely occur in concert in the future so it’s important to assess them together. Incorporating nutrient levels in thermal bleaching models will likely be very important for coral reef managers in the future as ocean waters warm.” concludes Erica Towle, an alumna of the University of Miami Rosenstiel School. Read more here!… More:

Coral Fat Storage Plays Big Role in Bleaching Recovery

Researchers from Ohio State University have expanded upon earlier research that concluded corals best suited for recovering after a bleaching event harbor large storages of fat in their zooxanthellae cells. “Three global bleaching events have already occurred since the 1980s, and will likely occur annually starting later this century, therefore, it has become more urgent than ever to know how coral can survive annual bleaching—one of the major threats to coral reefs today” says Lead study author Verena Schoepf. “Already, bleaching events have resulted in significant amounts of coral dying and causing impact to ocean ecosystems, but up until now it was largely unknown whether coral could recover between annual bleaching events,” Schoepf adds. Orbicella faveolata 2.3624d4b5The study adds new findings for the long term recovery rates of two corals best suited to withstand heat stress, as annual bleaching events are becoming more and more common along reefs all over the world. Both Porites divaricata, the species which kept the largest fat reserves, and Orbicella faveolata which kept the second to largest reserve out of the three corals studied, fared much better than Porites astreoides, which housed the smallest level of fat reserve. “They all look healthy on the outside, but they’re not all healthy on the inside,” said Andréa Grottoli, lead researcher and professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State. “We found that some coral are able to acclimatize to annual bleaching, while others actually become more susceptible to it over time. Our research will help with predicting the persistence of coral reefs, because knowledge of their capacity to recover from annual bleaching is critical information for these models,” concluded Grotolli. Read more here!… More:

Predicting the Vulnerability of Reefs to Climate Change

Data collected from the Reef Life Survey has allowed researchers from Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton to measure the thermal-range tolerance of 2,695 shallow reef fish and 1225 reef invertebrates. From Greenland to Australia the team focused on the thermal “bias” within which inhabitants can adapt, while noting which groups are more susceptible to extinction and replacement. “They found that locations where the average summer sea surface temperature is presently 24 °C, such as the Gulf of Thailand, southwestern Caribbean and Three Kings-North Cape in New Zealand, are the most vulnerable to changing community biodiversity. This is because most of the species making up these communities are already living near the edge of their temperature distribution.” The effort has created new measurement tools for predicting the sensitivity of reefs to rising ocean temperatures around the world. Study co-author Dr. Amanda Bates adds: “A strong focus in climate change ecology has been on quantifying the exposure of different regions of the globe to warming. Our work offers new tools for measuring the sensitivity of communities to change including accurate indicators that can be used to predict vulnerability.” 151111143139_1_900x600 Photo Credit: Rick Stuart-Smith With the evolutionary notion that species come and go, this research provides an interesting look into the heat tolerance for thousand of reef inhabitants, while providing a predictive model for those most at risk: “In 100 years from now, 100 percent of species in many communities will be lost and replaced by new species able to tolerate warmer conditions, leading to a redistribution of species across the globe.” Read more here!    … More:

Reef Threads Podcast #253

Hawaii Pacific University grad students Aurora Burgess, and our guests this week, Emma Forbes and Erin Pereira-Davison (l-r)

This week we talk about yellow tang breeding with Emma Forbes and Erin Periera-Davison, graduate students with Rising Tide Conservation and the Oceanic Institute at the Hawaii Pacific University. Emma and Erin share how they got involved in the project, some of their experiences while trying to get the larvae to develop and settle, and their individual research work as part of the project. Don’t miss this one. It’s a fantastic look into what it takes to realize such an achievement. Download the podcast here, or subscribe to our podcasts at iTunes. Also, follow us on Twitter at reefthreads.—Gary and Christine

Sponsor: Rod’s Food
Rod’s Food website

Rising Tide
Rising Tide Conservation website

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Rising Tide Conservation Facebook page

Oceanic Institute Yellow Tangs
Oceanic Institute Yellow Tang research web page


4 New Deep Cold Water Reefs Discovered in the Atlantic

Researchers from Plymouth, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), and the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway) have recently confirmed 4 new reefs located in the Atlantic Ocean. Developed at Plymouth University researchers used a mathematical process to identify the reefs, and then sent unmanned robotic rovers to explore the areas in waters just West of Ireland.  Plead researcher Dr Kerry Howell, Associate Professor in the School of Marine Science and Engineering at Plymouth University, said: “We’re delighted with these results. It means we can now produce maps of where coral is likely to be for large areas of the deep-sea that we have not yet visited, and use them to identify high value ecological areas that might need protection from damaging activities.”151013111956_1_900x600 “The models work by looking at where we know deep-water coral reefs are found, identifying what is favourable environment for the corals, for example their favourite depths, and then looking for areas with the same or similar conditions,” added Dr Anthony Grehan, from NUI Galway. “If conditions are very similar then there is a high likelihood we will find corals.” The research team spent a total of two frigid weeks aboard the RV Celtic Explorer using its underwater robot, Holland I, to explore areas predicted to house reef inhabitants. While on the exhibition the team was able to locate four out of four predicted reef sites, which solidified the matrix of their models. The findings and predictive models would not have been possible without the use of high resolution “multibeam” sonar maps coupled with the Irish National Seabed Survey high resolution bathymetric charts. Dr Howell concludes: “Our cold water coral reef models are now good enough to be used to better target areas that have not previously been explored, and this can greatly reduce the cost of future survey work.” Read more here!… More:

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