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...]

Roatan Marine Park—On Its Way to Autonomy

We love seeing communities come together to protect their coral reefs. The Roatan Marine Park (RMP) in Honduras is an inspiring example of how conservation efforts lead to great things. The success and growth they’ve shown are tremendous. Last year, CORAL invested in the sustainability of RMP with a $12,000 grant to hire a sustainable finance coordinator. The new position was designed to help them diversify income streams and build relationships within the private sector. The goal was to increase their capacity so they can expand to new areas of the island and continue to protect Roatan’s unique natural beauty. With the new coordinator, the RMP has grown its membership base by 40 percent—they’ve built stronger relationships with donors, businesses, and community members. They also helped create a U.S. 501(c)3, which allows them to fundraise in the United States. “A lot of visitors come here and want to make a tax-deductible … [Read more...]

The Coral Polyp and the Origin of Life

As a Hawaiian, I have a deep connection to the both the land and the sea. This stems not only from my personal love of nature but from my belief that all life is interrelated, a belief that drives my work with the Coral Reef Alliance. I learned this early through the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation chant that explains how life began, our shared genealogy. The ancient chant is more than two thousand lines, practiced, learned and shared over generations. The Kumulipo begins with cosmic darkness. O ke au i kahuli wela ka honua At the time when the earth became hot O ke au i kahuli lole ka lani At the time when the heavens turned about O ke au i kuka‘iaka ka la At the time when the sun was darkened E ho‘omalamalama i ka malama To cause the moon to shine O ke au o Makali‘i ka po The time of the rise of the Pleiades O ka walewale ho‘okumu honua ia The slime, this was the source of the earth O ke kumu o ka lipo, i lipo ai The … [Read more...]

Rediscovering Fiji’s Coral Reefs

By Jeff Chanin, Member of the CORAL International Council In November 2015, I boarded a 9:30 p.m. flight from Los Angeles and eleven hours later awoke to another dawn in another world. It was my fourth visit to Fiji since my first in 1980, and as I stepped off the jet, I was again welcomed by a chorus of island birds drifting my way on a warm tropical breeze. Fiji is a land of song, gentle people, and warmth above and below. I knew this was just the start of so much more to come.   On this live-aboard trip, I spent ten days on the Nai’a with 17 people from around the globe, cruising and diving Fiji’s Bligh Waters. Our itinerary included a return to one of my favorite dive destinations on the planet—the Namena Marine Reserve. Five years ago I made a day trip to Namena’s amazing reefs, diving twice among its brilliantly colored soft corals and huge schools of fish. This time, I was looking forward to several days’ of … [Read more...]

Biodiversity—what is it?

Biologists talk a lot about biodiversity (aka biological diversity). But what does this really mean? Biodiversity refers to the variety of life. When biodiversity is high, it means there are many different types of organisms and species. Coral reefs have very high biodiversity—more than 25 percent of all marine species are found on coral reefs, which occupy less than one percent of the ocean. And every organism plays a unique role and contributes to how coral reef communities survive and function. When scientists lament the loss of biodiversity, they are not only saying that the number of species has changed on a reef or in a region, but that there may also be changes in how that reef functions. Coral reef species exist in a delicate balance of roles and responsibilities. The herbivores graze and keep algae growth in check. The predators keep the populations of herbivores and weak or injured fish in balance. Parrotfish … [Read more...]

Cover Up for Coral Reefs

Coral reefs have been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons: island construction projects that are burying reefs, El Niño causing coral bleaching, and the risk to corals from carbon pollution. So it was unwelcomed news when we learned in October about a new study, Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, that shows a common ingredient in sunscreen, oxybenzone, is bad for corals. Even at very low concentrations, the growth rate of baby corals exposed to oxybenzone slowed down and they became deformed. When the concentration was increased, baby corals bleached, which caused them to release their food-generating symbiotic algae. Scientists are just starting to understand how chemicals like sunscreens can harm corals. The current study is an important step forward, but we expect to learn more about the effects of oxybenzone on corals in the years to come. We will also learn about how a myriad of chemicals are … [Read more...]

From Inspiration on the Caymans to momentum at the Paris Climate Talks

My father and I share a love of the ocean and diving. These days, we live 3,000 miles apart, he’s on the East Coast and I’m on the West. But we take the time to visit our respective hometowns and occasionally, to dive together where tropical corals grow. For me, dive travel is a much-needed escape from the challenges and speed of everyday life. It is also an opportunity to visit the array of coral species that I dedicated four years of my life to learning about during graduate school. In early November, my father and I visited one of my favorite Caribbean dive spots, Little Cayman Island and the awe-inspiring mosaic of the Bloody Bay Marine Park. As I stepped off the boat with a giant stride on our first dive, I saw a sudden explosion of color and movement on the reef below. Mixed feeding groups of parrotfish flowed over the reef in a seemingly coordinated ballet of interweaving movement. The crunch of their beak-like fused teeth … [Read more...]

A Thriving Lagoon

On the northern coast of Honduras, just a few miles west of Tela through lush tropical forests, sits Laguna de los Micos. The Laguna is a treasure trove of biodiversity, surrounded by mangroves and separated from the Caribbean Sea by only a few feet of sand. It’s one of the area’s most important coral reef habitats, and serves as a respite, home and nursery for hundreds of coral reef fish. The Laguna has always been an important area for local communities, providing subsistence and livelihoods. But in recent years, the fishermen weren’t catching as much. Fish populations seemed to be disappearing. Laguna de los Micos is part of the Parque Nacional Jeannette Kawas. The area is protected and has a management plan that includes fishing regulations. For example, boats cannot carry more than 600 meters of net, and the mesh size must be at least three inches. In some waterways you can only fish with hook and line, and spear guns or … [Read more...]

A Hopeful Future for Bali’s Reefs

Coral reefs are a hot topic these days. They’re all over the news—coral bleaching, constructing islands on top of reefs, and sunscreen pollution. Even the Washington Post has been running a series of articles on coral reefs. I’ve worked with corals for more than 10 years and I can’t remember a time when they’ve ever been so mainstream and popular. But here’s the problem: it’s all doom and gloom. All of the news that’s coming out is bad news. Where’s the optimism? Where’s the hope? Where are the success stories? That’s one of the things I love about CORAL. We know we CAN save coral reefs, and with the right amount of support, we WILL. And that’s why I enjoyed my most recent trip to Bali, Indonesia. I strategically aligned my trip so I could attend the first-ever Buleleng Bali Dive Festival, which was held in Pemuteran. Some of you may remember hearing about it at our 2014 Gala, when the Indonesian Minister of Fisheries and … [Read more...]