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...]

International Coral Reef Symposium

More than 2,500 people representing 97 nations gathered for the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu in June to talk about the science, conservation, management and governance of coral reefs. I would love to say that ICRS filled me with a sense of optimism about the state of reefs. However, the truth is that corals face a dire future unless we act now at both global and local scales. At a global scale, rising carbon dioxide levels are heating our planet. The recent El Niño, along with elevated temperatures, is causing widespread and devastating bleaching around the world. Dr. David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Marine Park Authority, shared how much of the GBR has been impacted by cyclones over the past decade. Recently, unusually warm water bathed the untouched northern part of the GBR, causing severe bleaching of over 80% of the corals and an estimated 35% mortality rate. At a … [Read more...]

Bleaching on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

A plane flies low over a turquoise sea off the coast of Queensland in northern Australia. Below lies the largest reef in the world: the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). At first, I think—or maybe it’s hope—that the white patches are boulders or cresting wavelets. But as the plane flies on, their true identity becomes undeniably clear: these are bleached corals. And there are a lot of them. As this video taken by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies makes clear, the GBR is in trouble. Reports indicate that up to 93 percent of corals in the northern part of the reef have bleached. But it’s not just the GBR that’s reporting bleaching: corals in the Indian Ocean, Caribbean, north and south Pacific, and coral triangle are all turning bone-white. What does it mean to say that a coral is bleached? Corals get their colors from tiny algae that live within their tissues. These algae help corals grow by capturing … [Read more...]

Announcing the successful completion of the Reefs Tomorrow Initiative

Over the past three years, CORAL has been privileged to work with world-class researchers from academic institutions and conservation organizations as part of the Reefs Tomorrow Initiative (RTI). Launched in 2012 with a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, RTI’s goal was to understand how multiple factors—for example, wave energy, herbivores, and the distribution of coral species on a reef—interact to affect the health of a coral reef. In conjunction with our scientific research, we worked with coral reef managers around the world to understand how they use science to inform their management decisions. We based our scientific research on the remote atoll of Palmyra in the central Pacific. Armed with cameras, clipboards, settlement tiles, temperature data loggers and more, we collected a truly staggering amount of biological, physical, and ecological data. Simultaneously, we worked with communities around the … [Read more...]

El Niño: Will It Hurt Coral Reefs?

You’ve probably heard about it in the news. You may even remember living through it in the early 80s and 90s. El Niño is here. It's already impacting the Pacific Ocean and this August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) saw variances in sea surface temperatures near or greater than 2.0 degrees Celsius. El Niño refers to warming waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Those warmer waters spread to the east, bringing with them a drastic change in weather patterns. Scientists predict that this year's El Niño is extreme and may last through the spring of 2016. That means trouble for coral reefs. In fact, NOAA recently announced that "bleaching due to heat stress is expected to impact approximately 38 percent of the world’s coral reefs—and almost 95% of those in U.S. waters." When water temperatures grow too warm, corals become stressed and oust the tiny algae that live in their tissues, called zooxanthellae. … [Read more...]

Making Scientific Research Relevant

Scientific research has great potential to inform conservation efforts. All too often, however, scientific results that could be useful languish on library shelves (or get lost in the cloud) instead. Some researchers make concerted efforts to address real-world questions, but these attempts frequently fail because the researchers do not fully understand what kind of information will be most useful to managers and conservation professionals. If on-the-ground practitioners are consulted, it’s usually at the end of a project when they are asked how they will use a new tool or newly revealed information, at which point the opportunity to guide development of the new tool or the type of information collected has long passed. The Reefs Tomorrow Initiative* (RTI) has taken a different approach to ensure that our research results address the most pressing needs of managers and conservation professionals. Parallel to our scientific pursuits, … [Read more...]