Creating Win-wins for Reefs and People

It’s 2011 and Jenny Myton, CORAL’s Associate Program Director for the Mesoamerican Reef, is diving in the murky waters of Tela Bay, Honduras. Her husband rolls into the water after her and hears Jenny scream. He panics: is she OK? As he swims down to her he also starts to yell but they are both yelling in excitement because—astonishingly—the bottom is covered in live coral. Coral cover has declined across the Caribbean, from near 80 percent in the 1970s to about 18 percent today. Somehow, the corals in Tela have defied that trend: live coral cover is an astounding 69 percent. Now six years later, I have a chance to see these amazing reefs for myself. My own journey to Tela starts with lunch in Miami. No, not that Miami—this is Miami, Honduras: a ragtag collection of wooden houses perched on stilts and crowded onto a narrow strip of sand between the Caribbean Sea and Laguna de Los Micos. This lagoon is an important nursery habitat … [Read more...]

Adaptive Reefscapes: A Blueprint for Coral Conservation

Studies have been done, published scientific articles have been peer-reviewed, and 97 percent of publishing climate scientists agree that human activity over the past century is causing global climate change. Currently, coral reefs are suffering great losses due to local threats, such as overfishing and unsustainable tourism, and global threats, such as rising ocean temperatures. As the executive director of a coral conservation nonprofit, I must ask myself how we can save coral reefs. Fortunately, we have an answer found with the corals themselves. Today there is a growing scientific evidence that corals can adapt to environmental changes. In fact, corals have been adapting for hundreds of millions of years. We can see evidence of coral adaptation everywhere on coral reefs. For example, scientists are discovering corals that are thriving in harsh conditions, like the unusually warm waters in lagoons in American Samoa. These special … [Read more...]

Beat Blox to Save Coral Reefs

Beautiful, delicate and amazing are some of the words that the sixth grader Justin Jesuele uses to describe his experiences with coral reefs. Each year, students at Justin’s elementary school complete a year-long community service project with the goal of educating their peers on issues important to them and fundraising for an organization that aligns with their chosen cause. For his project, Justin chose to raise funds for the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) and awareness about the current state of coral reefs. At an annual Innovation Fair in the early spring, students present products they design, test and mass produce to raise funds for their chosen organization. Justin designed and manufactured a beat blox, an “elegant, cordless iPhone speaker that doesn’t need to be charged.” At the end of the fair, Justin sold all 29 speakers and raised a record-breaking $580. Thanks to passionate donors like Justin, CORAL can work with … [Read more...]

Why Do Large Reefscapes Matter?

Coral reefs face many natural and human-caused threats. In March 2017, a British-owned cruise ship ran aground at Raj Ampat causing significant damage to roughly 1,600 square meters of coral reefs. Recent studies in West Maui have shown that land-based pollution is reducing water quality and covering corals in sediment. Extensive coverage about bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef reminds us that these delicate ecosystems are in crisis. Fortunately, we have a solution that will help corals grow, reproduce and continue to build reefs. We can create Adaptive Reefscapes, which are networks of healthy reefs that is Diverse, Connected and Large. But what’s the right size for an Adaptive Reefscape? It turns out that there may be a Goldilocks solution that’s not too big and not too small. Adaptive Reefscapes should be as big as possible to reduce problems caused by large disturbances; a small Reefscape might be at risk from one major … [Read more...]

Protecting a Lagoon and its People

Imagine sitting in a small boat on the Laguna de Los Micos on the northern coast of Honduras, just a few miles west of Tela. You’re enjoying a sunny day in the lagoon surrounded by green mangroves, birds singing to one another and monkeys playing among the branches. In the distance, you see local fishermen making their livelihoods, casting lines and nets from offshore hoping for a catch. Unfortunately, the lagoon is under constant threat from overfishing by outside communities who are not complying with the local fishing regulations. In turn, overfishing causes a decline in populations of the reef fish that depend on lagoons as nurseries for their young. Fortunately, the recently passed Ministerial Decree 108-2017 is designed to protect this vital water source that provides food and income for the surrounding 13 communities. Since 2011, CORAL’s Honduras field team and our partners have worked collaboratively in Tela to encourage … [Read more...]

Why Does Connectivity Matter?

It’s a clear fall night in the Caribbean. High in the sky is a full moon and the water is perfectly warm. Once a year, the conclusion of a full moon and warmer water temperatures sets the mood for an incredible event – coral spawning. On this night, coral polyps release bundles of eggs and sperm into the water forming billions of free-floating larvae. These baby corals are starting unique journeys, following ocean currents for a few days or weeks before settling down on new reefs. Some corals stay close to home, while others travel for many kilometers to distant reefs. If they are lucky, they’ll find a safe place to call home, and will flourish and produce offspring of their own. This connection of reefs at the local scale is an important attribute in an Adaptive Reefscape, which are diverse, connected and large networks of healthy reefs designed to help corals adapt to climate change. Baby corals are looking for a reef that … [Read more...]

Small Community, Big Cleanup

The small village of Tulamben is known as one of the best dive spots in Bali. The USS Liberty, a local shipwreck, can see upwards of 100 people per day during the high tourist season. Though this brings in much needed economic support for the local community, tourism creates stress on the local marine ecosystems. As it is in many other places in Bali, waste management is a challenge in Tulamben, especially during the rainy season. Located at the base of Mount Agung in the North East of Bali, Tulamben is one of the driest places on the island. Rain here is a luxury, and when it comes, it washes the volcanic sediment and inorganic trash that has accumulated in the dry riverbeds into the ocean, burying the nearshore coral reefs. Recently, the Tulamben Dive Guide Organization arranged a community cleanup to remove inorganic trash from the river mouth at the Drop Off. The cleanup was officially opened by the head of Tulamben Village, … [Read more...]

Why Does Coral Reef Diversity Matter?

Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and are home to 25 percent of all marine life though they occupy less than one percent of our oceans. There are sponges and corals of all shapes and sizes, hard and soft; tiny fishes like pygmy seahorses and big fishes like tiger sharks; there are anemones, nudibranchs and snails – the list goes on! Reefs are also diverse in types of habitats: fringing reefs, barrier reefs and atolls to name a few. Even a single species of coral is genetically diverse. But why does coral reef diversity matter in an era of global climate change? We all know the facts: corals face an uncertain future due to local threats, such as pollution and overfishing, and global threats, such as climate change and ocean acidification. But without the reef-building corals, like staghorn or elkhorn, there is no reef and no habitat for the myriad forms of life that call reefs home. If we are to have … [Read more...]

Meet Antonella: Biologist, Diver and Fantasy-Geek

Recently, we welcomed Dr. Antonella Rivera to the Coral Reef Alliance family. Antonella is a Honduran biologist born in the city of Tegucigalpa and will work with local communities on fisheries reform and management efforts along the North Coast and Tela. Antonella first became aware of the profound benefits coral reefs have on the sustainability of coastal communities while diving off the coast of Honduras in the Bay Islands. This new appreciation for reefs motivated her to earn a Ph.D. in marine socio-ecological systems from the University of Oviedo. Her multidisciplinary research background ranges from analyzing the management implications of larval dispersal to the use of perception research to assess the adaptive capacity of coastal communities. Through her studies and work experience with fishing communities in Europe and Latin America, she has become a firm believer in the need for bottom-up, holistic and adaptive conservation … [Read more...]

Who Should Pick the Winners of Climate Change?

The facts are clear: our world is getting warmer, and the warming is happening rapidly. For plants, animals and other organisms, shifts in climate have enormous consequences. Nowhere is this more true than on coral reefs, where a worldwide crisis is underway that has scientists and environmentalists asking a chilling question: how can we save coral reefs? At the Coral Reef Alliance, we believe that the natural process of adaptation can help save coral reefs. A new article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, co-authored by CORAL staff and others, argues that adaptation will occur faster and have a better chance of succeeding if nature has many options with which to work. Options take the form of different species, individuals and genes and work like tickets in a lottery: most are not winners, but a few have just the right combinations to succeed. This article outlines an innovative approach and practical advice about how we can … [Read more...]