Posted on 09 August 2011.
Defenders' coral scientist Dan Thornhill in action
Whether you’re loading up a scuba tank or slipping on a snorkel mask, if you’re touring a coral reef, chances are you’re entering tropical waters. But what happens when suddenly those waves aren’t so warm? According to new research, it isn’t only rising temperatures that pose a threat to undersea ecosystems–a plunging thermometer could have serious consequences for corals as well.
Last year was an unusually frigid time for Floridians. In fact, January and February of 2010 saw temperatures on inshore reefs in the upper Florida Keys fall below 54 degrees F (12 C), and remain below 64 degrees F (18 C) for two weeks. The negative effects were felt by wildlife throughout Florida waters, and corals were no exception. Just three weeks after the cold snap, a team of researchers (including coral scientist and soon-to-be-Defender Dan Thornhill) headed down to the Florida Keys. They knew such a low drop would have an impact on corals found in the area’s reefs, but had no idea what they were in for. The results were chilling.
Corals from Admiral Reef before and after the cold-water event. Credit: Dustin Kemp, University of Georgia
Key Largo’s Admiral Reef was dead. “It was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” said University of Georgia researcher Dustin Kemp. “The large, reef-building corals were gone. Some were estimated to be 200 to 300 years old and had survived other catastrophic events, such as the 1998 El Niño bleaching event. The severe cold water appeared to kill the corals quite rapidly.” How had the cold hit them so hard, so quickly?
After comparing coral samples from those that had survived, the researchers determined that the key element was Symbiodinium, a type of symbiotic algae that lives inside corals and provides them with nutrition. Cold waters restrict the algae’s ability to photosynthesize (the same way excessively warm waters do). Without that vital energy, neither algae or corals can survive. And without corals, an entire ecosystem hangs in the balance.
“The corals provide the framework for the entire reef ecosystem,” Kemp said. “The lobster, shrimp, clams, fish — all the creatures that depend on the reef — were affected too. The potential consequences for coral ecosystems are extremely alarming.”
Cold temperatures join a growing list of threats to coral reefs around the world today. See how Defenders is working to protect protect the health and unique beauty of coral reefs by reforming the the unsustainable aquarium trade.
Dan Thornhill and his team of researchers are also working to process data gathered a mile below the surface before, during and after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to see how deep-sea animals and ecosystems fared after exposure to massive amounts of oil and chemical dispersants.
Feeling the Heat: See Defenders’ board member Jeff Corwin talk about the world’s coral reefs – and how climate change is slowly killing these magnificent hotspots of biodiversity.
Posted in Climate Change, Experts, Features, Marine Animals, Southeast
Posted on 02 February 2011.
Coral reefs and their wildlife, like bright orange clownfish, sea anemones and colorful sponges, face threats like climate change and overfishing every day. But there’s a lesser known threat lurking among the waves: international trade in coral reef animals for “ornamental” uses like home and business aquariums, jewelry and household decorations.
Although some coral importers demand responsible stewardship, most do not. As a result, coral reef wildlife sold in the U.S. are typically collected and imported using practices that cause significant environmental harm.
In many cases, people collecting coral wildlife will crush corals, or dump poisons like cyanide, bleach or gasoline into the water to stun fish and other wildlife, making them easier to gather. These practices damage or even destroy corals and other important species that build the reef habitat. Collection also removes ecologically important species, like parasite cleaners and algae grazers, thereby reducing biodiversity.
To make matters worse, up to 40% of animals taken for importation die shortly after they are collected. That means collectors must take even more animals from the reefs, which further increases the damage to the entire ecosystem.
The fate of the Banggai Cardinalfish, a striking yellow and black striped fish with delicate, arching fins, is an example of the tragic consequences of irresponsible harvesting practices. After just six years of collection for ornamental use, the Banggai Cardinalfish population dropped by more than 50%.
Finding a solution:
Defenders is working with other conservation and humane advocates to find solutions to this problem. But YOU can help too! If you plan to buy fish or other wildlife for a home or business aquarium, ask the vendor for assurances that the creatures were collected and imported using sustainable and humane practices.
By improving the way we trade in coral reef wildlife, we can protect the health and unique beauty of coral reef wildlife and ecosystems and make sure they’re here for generations to come.
This week, Defenders’ coral scientist Dr. Dan Thornhill talked with host June Stoyer from The Organic View about how both climate change and the wildlife trade can impact the health of coral reefs. Click here to download the interview!
Feeling the Heat: Hear Defenders’ board member Jeff Corwin talk about the world’s coral reefs – and how climate change is slowly killing these magnificent hotspots of biodiversity.
Posted in Features, Marine Animals, Southeast, West Coast, Wildlife
Posted on 01 November 2010.
Photo courtesy of NOAA
By Glen Gardner, Public News Service – FL
November 1, 2010
Listen to Defenders’ Elizabeth Fleming on Public News Service Radio.
TAMPA, Fla. – The fate of the dwarf seahorse species that calls Florida seagrass beds home is up in the air after all that oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico this past summer. Experts say it will take time to figure out how the oil affects the population of these small, fragile creatures that live off Florida’s shores.
Dr. Heather Masonjones, associate professor and chair of the biology department at the University of Tampa, says the big question for the seahorses is how the oil affected the seagrass beds that they call home.
“No seagrass, no seahorses. For this particular species, we have not found them associated very often with other ecosystems.”
Masonjones says that if the oil acted as a shade, keeping light from penetrating the salt water, the grass that harbors the seahorses is threatened.
“Seagrass requires high levels of light to be able to photosynthesize and do the things seagrasses do to be able to grow and develop.”
Those working to protect the seahorse fear their plight is flying under the radar as media attention has turned elsewhere. The group Defenders of Wildlife says there is an urgent need to investigate the conservation status of the dwarf seahorse in the wake of the tragedy, as well as the extent to which all seahorses in the Gulf of Mexico are being threatened.
Elizabeth Fleming of Defenders’ Florida office says seahorses are extraordinary and unique creatures but unfortunately very little is known about how they may have been affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“We won’t know for some time to come about where the oil went and what the toxic effects are going to be, and even about the effects of all those dispersants that were applied.”
Fleming says oil isn’t the only problem for seahorses. She says they are threatened by fishing nets, collected for the aquarium trade and harvested for use in traditional Asian medicine.
Learn more about how the Gulf oil disaster may impact seahorses and their seagrass habitat.
Posted in Features, In the News, Marine Animals, Offshore Drilling, Southeast