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...]

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...]