Making Connections Across Melanesia (Uniting People and Communities)

My work with the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) provides me with many memorable experiences and opportunities. One of the greatest rewards is meeting and working with such diverse groups of people and building strong connections with the communities in Fiji. Following Tropical Cyclone Winston, l discovered just how passionately connected to the Kubulau community I had become. I wanted to do more to help, and in July, I had an amazing opportunity to connect on a much larger scale at the inaugural Melanesian Spearhead Group, Emerging Leaders Program. Here, I learned about new ways to help community’s recovery from devastation and hardships caused by such a catastrophic storm. During the Melanesian Youth Leaders Forum, I met people from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji. We all shared our successes and challenges and along the way, we gathered valuable and shareable lessons. Forum Snapshot: … [Read more...]

Coral Reef Close-up: Mucus Munchers

Butterflyfish are a favorite for many reef lovers, and their unique feeding habits make them coral reef obligates (they are only found on coral reefs). Did you know that some of the 129 species of butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae) are “mucus munchers?” As strange as it might sound, some butterflyfish take advantage of energy-rich coral mucus as a primary food source. Corals produce mucus as a protective layer or use its stickiness to trap food.  Butterflyfish feed on this nutrient rich layer and take advantage of this easy to consume food source. Other butterflyfish species feed on coral polyps or small invertebrates and plankton. Butterflyfish are fairly small and laterally flattened – they look like a disc with rounded fins. They are found around the world on coral reefs and are brightly colored, often with some combination of yellow, black and white. Many butterflyfish species are monogamous and territorial. You will often … [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...]

Sunscreen and Corals

For many of us, coral reefs are vacation destinations; places we feel lucky to visit. We plan our trip and packing lists carefully, and bring clothes and sunscreens to protect our skin from the intensity of the equatorial sun, but as we reported in January, sunscreen is not as safe for corals as we once thought. This June, many of the world’s top coral reef scientists met at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Hawaii to discuss the challenges facing coral reefs. Sunscreen and other personal care product ingredients were hot topics. Of particular concern to scientists was oxybenzone, a chemical used in sunscreens to protect our skin from damaging UV light. Oxybenzone is bad news for corals, harming them by; Increasing a coral’s susceptibility to bleaching Damaging coral DNA which interferes with reproduction Causing deformities and growth anomalies Disrupting a coral’s hormonal processes for growth and … [Read more...]

Investing in the Future of Communities and Reefs

Yesterday, we started talking about management. If we’re going to help communities protect their coral reefs, then we need to help them build effective management programs. But management costs money. According to preliminary results from Dr. David Gill, many marine protected areas (MPAs) have inadequate staffing and financial resources for management activities and this could be affecting their ecological performance. Thankfully, at this year’s International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), we learned about various creative conservation financing mechanisms being developed and implemented around the world. Our favorite example is from Roatan Marine Park (RMP) in Honduras (note: we may be a bit biased!). Jenny Myton, our Associate Programs Director for the Mesoamerican region, presented on their model this afternoon. In 2009 we helped RMP develop a business plan. From that plan, they’ve become 100% self-sustaining financially. … [Read more...]

Let’s Not Forget About the Local Communities

Last year, over 190 countries came together in France for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21). They negotiated the Paris Agreement—a global agreement on limiting global warming. It was a great example of setting ambitious policy to protect our natural resources. COP 21 has been a popular topic at this year’s International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), the theme of which is bridging science with policy. It’s an important topic—how can we build a stronger partnership between scientists and policy makers to protect coral reefs? For example, the parties at COP 21 vowed to pursue efforts to limit global warming to under 2.0oC; however, according to Dr. Janice Lough in this morning’s plenary session, a 1.5oC increase in temperatures would have drastic effects on coral reefs. Using data from a variety of sources, Dr. Lough showed that our Earth has already warmed by 1.0oC since the early 1800s. Given that we’ve … [Read more...]

It’s Not Enough to Address Overfishing

Overfishing is a widespread problem across our oceans. As our global human population quickly approaches eight billion, pressures on these ocean resources will only increase. That means bad news for coral reef fish. They are even more vulnerable to overfishing than pelagic (open ocean) fish because of their biology, said Dr. Charles Birkeland in his Tuesday morning plenary session at the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS). Coral reef fish are slow growing and long-lived, and there’s ample evidence that older, bigger fish are more fertile and produce young that are better equipped to survive the larval phase. Coral reef fish play a vital role in the coral reef network of life. For example, herbivores, or grazing fish, eat algae and seaweeds and can prevent them from overgrowing corals on a reef. In this morning’s plenary address, Dr. Pete Mumby explained that coral larvae, or baby corals, are less likely to settle on a … [Read more...]

Poor Water Quality is Hurting Coral Reefs

For many years, few people paid attention to the impacts that poor water quality has on coral reefs. But this is changing. At the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), many sessions focused on discussing this important issue. Never has the CORAL team been so excited to hear so many talks on sewage, sedimentation, and runoff! Poor water quality impacts most of the reefs around the world. When polluted water enters the ocean, it carries both sediment and nutrients. Sediment can smother a reef, blocking out the sunlight that corals need in order to grow. Nutrients fuel the growth of algae and seaweeds which compete with corals for space. According to a talk by Stephanie Wear of The Nature Conservancy, high levels of nutrients can also lead to higher incidences of coral disease and bleaching. This is particularly relevant today when we’re in the middle of the third global bleaching event. But as Wear pointed out, our efforts … [Read more...]

Corals Can Adapt to Our Changing Environment

Coral reefs around the world are being hit hard by many stressors. At the local level, they’re dealing with issues like overfishing and poor water quality. At the global level, they’re facing warming temperatures, more acidic oceans, and stronger storms. With effective management, we can mitigate many local threats. But the global ones are a bit harder. It’s clear that if corals are going to survive global climate change, they are going to have to adapt. The good news is that we know that corals can adapt. They have evolved numerous ways to deal with environmental conditions – for example, some corals thrive in murky river mouths while others flourish in warm-water lagoons. But the pace of climate change is rapid, leaving corals with a small window in which to adjust to rapidly changing conditions. So what can we do to help corals adapt? This was the topic of one of Monday’s sessions at the International Coral Reef Symposium … [Read more...]

Who’s the Real Dory?

On coral reefs, “Dory,” the small vibrant blue fish with black stripes and a yellow tail, is known by several other names: Hippo Tang, Royal Blue Tang, Regal Tang, Palette Surgeonfish and by the scientific name Paracanthurus hepatus. They live in warm waters at 2-40 meters deep in the Indo-Pacific Ocean and can grow up to 12 inches (31 cm) long. Blue Tang are one of more than 70 species of surgeonfish, a group of fish known for the very sharp spines near the tail. They normally hold these spines close to their body, but they can extend them when threatened. When they are young, they feed exclusively on plankton. As adults they are omnivores, eating both algae and invertebrates, including plankton. Royal Blue tangs play an important role in maintaining the health and balance of coral reefs. Herbivores graze the algae (seaweed) on reefs, similar to cattle or sheep in a field. These herbivores keep the algae in check and keep … [Read more...]