Archive for the 'Atlantic Ocean' Category

Days of Eastern Caribbean reefs are numbered

The West Indies’ coral reefs will disappear in a few decades. This is the shocking result of a new scientific study. Individual coral colonies will survive in the region even in the future, but the coral reef ecosystem as we currently know it will disappear. All this will lead to significant economic losses, particularly for island and coastal people whose livelihoods are closely linked to coral reefs and the ecosystem services they provide.

Global climate change is the main reason for the dramatic changes. The powerful adverse effects were shown in the Eastern Caribbean already in 2005, when the health of the region’s reefs weakened and live cover dropped during an extensive coral bleaching.

The study by Buddemeier et al. tells that it is already too late to stop the reef death. The big changes in the coral reef environment will take place even if substantial emission cuts of greenhouse gases are implemented in the coming years.

Coral reefs of the Caribbean are facing difficult times: efficient conservation measures are needed urgently. In addition to global emission cuts of greenhouse gases, innovative local conservation actions would be important. Photo copyright (c) 2011 Erkki Siirila.

The study published in the journal Climate Change in 2011 focuses on Eastern Caribbean reef health and especially the Virgin Islands’ area. The COMBO (COral Mortality and Bleaching Output) model was used for the predictions. Three realistic emission scenarios for greenhouse gases were the basis for the simulation.

The results indicate that future bleaching episodes will be followed by the reduction of live coral cover on the reefs. (Most of the damage will be caused by the warming of sea waters and related bleaching. The decline in reef condition will take place even if the adverse effect of ocean acidification is calculated as minor.)

If there is no adaptation by the corals to the elevated mean water temperatures, the live coral cover on the West Indies’ reefs will decrease to less than 5% already by the year 2035. In a scenario where corals develop an additional 1–1.5 degrees Celcius of heat tolerance (through a shift in the symbiotic algae that live in the coral tissues) coral cover above 5% could last until 2065.

The researchers did not include reefs which are located more than 30m underwater. Live coral cover between 5 and 10% was considered a limit where the reef would not be able to regenerate itself and could not be called a real coral reef any more. For several of these modeling scenarios, the researchers used starting levels of coral cover of 7%, 15%, and/or 30%. These values are realistic values in the Eastern Caribbean.

Buddemeier et al. summarise their study by saying that “coral reef communities are likely to be essentially gone from substantial parts of the Southeast Caribbean by the year 2035, given the current low cover values following the 2005 event” and that “the conversion of coral reefs to fundamentally different systems will have large implications for the provision of ecosystem services”. The authors add: “Given the modeling results presented here, urgent efforts are needed to identify and protect what appear to be the most resilient coral reefs in the Caribbean.”

The whole study (R. W. Buddemeier, Diana R. Lane and J. A. Martinich, Modeling regional coral reef responses to global warming and changes in ocean chemistry: Caribbean case study, Climatic Change, 2011, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-011-0022-z) can be found here: Study by Buddemeier et al.

Plastic pollution threatens marine life and us

Plastic is everywhere. It is difficult to buy anything without also buying plastic. If the product is not made of plastic, the packing material is.

Plastic is strong, versatile and inexpensive. It is also lightweight and moisture resistant. Being so durable and so widely used, plastic materials ultimately become waste which is present everywhere and which degrades very slowly.

Plastic bottles floating in the river. Photo from the Rio de la Plata waterfront, Buenos Aires, Argentina, (c) 2010 Erkki Siirila.

In the ocean, plastic debris is believed to kill 100,000 marine mammals every year, as well as millions of birds and fish.  Nevertheless, the most dangerous aspect of the plastic debris is hidden from our eyes: it is the microscopic fragmented plastic particles, which float in the sea and are transported thousand of nautical miles in the ocean currents.

There are more and more of this kind of microscopic plastic particles everywhere. These particles cannot be removed from the ocean and they are believed to be more toxic than previously thought.

In the sea, the microscopic plastic particles are ingested by the small animals of zooplankton at the bottom of the food chains. Through fish and other larger marine animals these food chains lead to us humans. When we do not manage the plastic waste in a sustainable manner, we are polluting not only the oceans but also ourselves.

The plastic material entering the world oceans is an increasing problem around the world. Photo from Buenos Aires, Argentina, (c) 2010 Erkki Siirila.

An excellent Coastalcare summary (written by  Claire Le Guern Lytle) of plastic pollution and its consequences in the marine environment can be read here:

Coral restoration helps damaged reefs

Threatened staghorn and elkhorn coral colonies are getting important help from a dedicated conservationist in the Florida Keys. Ken Nedimyer, the driving force behind the Coral Restoration Foundation, has developed his own reef restoration techniques since the year 2000. Nedimyer grows corals on his shallow-water underwater farm off Key Largo. From the farm the corals are taken to  surrounding reefs, where they are transplanted in areas which suffer from loss of live cover.
Professional conservation institutions and organisations like NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, Mote Marine Laboratory, Nova Southeastern University and The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science of the University of Miami have been so impressed that they have joined the work.
The current design is based on Nedimyer’s learning through trial and error. The cooperation with the partners has resulted in seven other nurseries following that method. Two of the new farms are located outside the Florida Keys, i.e. in St.Croix and St.Thomas.
One Florida reef which got crucial help from Nedimeyer had been damaged by a freight ship grounding.  Farm-grown corals were used to replenish the suffering underwater communities. In a couple of years the new corals had become spawning colonies which were able to colonise the sea bottom in the natural manner.
Coral replanting is a promising way to help our threatened reefs.  Studies and experiments have been carried out not only in Florida but also in other parts of the world.  A lot of work still needs to be carried out in order to know the species best suited for farming and transplanting.
Nedimyer, who is a trained marine biologist, says he wants to improve his knowledge as to which corals grow faster than others and which ones are the most resilient to diseases and changes in water temperature.  Other conservationists remind us that climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing and sediment runoff from land remain as significant threats to coral communities around the world.  These pressures result in bleaching and other serious problems on the reefs, which need to become a global hot spot for conservation efforts.
More information on the Florida Keys coral restoration methods can be found here:

Coral Restoration Foundation

This Vimeo video highlights the Nedimyer reef restoration work:

Free access to the shore is everyone’s right

Hundreds of thousands of people travelling from Buenos Aires to the Atlantic coast of Argentina cannot be wrong. They invest a lot of time and money in order to get to the public beaches 300 to 500 km south of Buenos Aires during the peak holiday season in January and February.Their total investment shows how high the value of healthy coastal nature and unpolluted waters is for the common man. It also shows the importance of free access to coastal spaces from the democratic and socio-economic point of view.

Hundreds of thousands of people travel from Buenos Aires to the Atlantic coast of Argentina in January and February. The economic value of the free beach access is high. Image taken at San Clemente del Tuyu, (c) 2010 Erkki Siirila.

Private coastal spaces benefit a handful of people while public spaces benefit millions of people. The problem is the same in developing and developed countries. In southern Europe you can often see the beautiful Mediterranean but access to the sea is difficult because of private lands, through which you cannot even walk to the sea. The problem is the same in the Caribbean, where the local people commonly have lost access to some of their traditional beaches, because the access routes have been taken over by international hotel chains.

Respecting everyone’s right to shore access is a common issue to be solved in coastal zone management. In many countries at least the shore area up to the highest tide mark is public. Often there is also a wider, construction-free public set-back area on the shore.  Nevertheless, the access to this area where people have traditionally kept their boats and gone for a swim, has often been blocked by private properties.

The solution is not to forget the public access routes to these places.  The best example on how to respect everyone’s right to nature, both marine and terrestrial, is provided by the Nordic countries, in which “every man’s right” is a traditional legal concept. You may spend time within a private land area and walk through it to the beach without asking permission. The only exception are people’s houses, the privacy of which you need to respect.

Whales attract us – let´s keep them alive

The Patagonian coast of Argentina is a good example of what whales can do to boost local tourism.  Thousands of people come to the coastal towns of Puerto Madryn and Puerto Piramide every year – just to see the southern right whales, which spend a few months here.

The close encounters with the whales and their calves are unique experiences,  something a visitor will remember for years.

The protection measures, which include whale-watching guidelines, are clearly paying off.  Everyone is winning.

Visitors meeting southern right whales in Patagonia. Photo (c) 2009 Erkki Siirila.

The coastal zone needs wise management

Global climate change is here.  Sea levels are rising, ocean temperatures are going up.  Our coastal and marine resources are threatened.  Holistic coastal area management actions are needed.

The new management needs to be integrated, be based on stakeholder consultation and result in real coordination of activities at all levels and among all the actors.  The reason for this is that the coastal and marine ecosystems do not recognise the artificial boundaries invented by us humans.

We need real cooperation and integrated management instead of the sectoral management of the past.  The traditional sectoral management is one-sided.  It does not have the answers required for the complex coastal and marine challenges we are facing.

The coastal area is used intensively at Bombinhas, Brazil. Photo (c) 2009 Erkki Siirila.