Posts Tagged ‘Conservation’

Has Global Warming Destroyed the Great Barrier Reef?

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016


A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is home to more than 1,500 species of fish, and one-third of the world’s corals. It generates an annual income of $3.9 billion per year, and provides employment for nearly 70,000 people. Unfortunately, and as many divers will know, a recent study shows that this incredible natural wonder is in the middle of an unprecedented disaster. According to a series of surveys undertaken by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (ARC Centre), 93 percent of the reef’s corals have been damaged by large-scale bleaching. Australia and many other Pacific countries are currently in the grip of an unusually long El Niño, a climate phenomenon that causes water temperatures throughout the region to rise significantly; this year’s El Niño is is particularly severe in part due to greenhouse gases and subsequent global warming.

Led by Professor Terry Hughes, the team from the ARC Centre led aerial and underwater surveys of 900 of the Great Barrier Reef’s individual reefs, which together form a continuous structure around 1,400 miles long. The results showed just 7 percent of the reef system to be entirely free from coral bleaching, with the worst damage focused on the northernmost section of the GBR. In this region, which stretches from Port Douglas to the northern Torres Strait Islands, 80 percent of the reefs surveyed were classified as severely bleached.

Coral bleaching occurs as a result of abnormally high water temperatures, which cause corals to expel the zooxanthellae living within their tissues. As well as giving coral its color, the zooxanthellae provide nutrients for their hosts via photosynthesis — without them, the coral will eventually die. Bleaching can be reversed only if water conditions return to normal and the zooxanthellae are allowed to repopulate the coral within a certain amount of time. Devastatingly, it is already too late for 50 percent of corals in the northern sector of the reef.

Experts working with the ARC Centre expect that this mortality rate could increase to more than 90 percent if the causes of the bleaching are not reversed soon. When speaking of the devastation in the northern sector, Hughes says that the damage caused looks as though “ten cyclones have come ashore all at once.” Fortunately, bleaching in the middle and southern sections of the reef is slightly less severe, with only 1 percent of reefs in the southernmost region classified as severely bleached.

Although only one quarter of reefs in these areas are untouched by bleaching, scientists hope that it is not too late for the majority of the reefs to recover. The healthier condition of the southern reefs can be attributed to greater cloud cover and rainfall in these regions of the GBR in recent months.

The Great Barrier Reef has suffered two other large-scale bleaching events in recent years, once in 1998 and once in 2002, both of which were also during El Niño. However, the current disaster eclipses both of these events, the worst of which saw 54 percent of the GBR affected by bleaching. Climate change is undoubtedly a contributing factor behind the unprecedented damage wreaked by this year’s El Niño, as the effects of the phenomenon are exacerbated by already elevated sea temperatures.

Tragically, the extent of the recent devastation is so extreme that scientists are predicting it will take decades — at best — for the reef to recover, if at all. Many of the corals that have already died were long-lived, slow-growing species that take centuries to form. Consequently, the reefs of the future are likely to be dominated by other, faster-growing species, which will affect the balance of marine life throughout the ecosystem. According to Hughes, the northern Great Barrier Reef may never return to what it once was. To our mind, it’s nothing less than tragedy on a global scale.

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PADI Pros “Adopt A Dive Site” with Project AWARE

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

Nic Emery

Scuba divers are some of the world’s most passionate ocean advocates. With our unique underwater access and dive skills, we’re a powerful movement – one that seeks out action and mobilizes for change. To further mobilize the citizen scientists they’ve cultivated and empowered through Dive Against Debris™, Project AWARE® launched the Adopt […]

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Passions of Paradise EcoGuides share reef knowledge

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

Passions of Paradise has expanded its citizen science program in anticipation of a surge in interest following the David Attenborough series on the Great Barrier Reef. Passions of Paradise Chief Executive Officer Scotty Garden said the company had boosted the number of crew accredited with Ecotourism Australia to five as […]

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Rescuing Baby Sayle

Friday, April 22nd, 2016


Words and photos by Dr. Caine Delacy. Caine is a marine biologist and photographer dedicated to documenting the underwater world and learning more about the ocean, particularly the health of coral reefs around the world. He currently serves as the Director of Science and Research at the Ocean First Education. […]

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New Marine Sanctuary in the Galapagos

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

The Galapagos, which lies around 560 miles off the west coast of Ecuador, is renowned as one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is home to more than 2,900 species of fish, invertebrates and marine mammals, as well as countless terrestrial and avian species. Nearly 20 percent of all marine life in the Galapagos Islands is endemic, meaning that it’s found nowhere else on Earth, and now there’s a new marine sanctuary in the Galapagos aiming to protect some of it.

The islands are also home to the world’s greatest biomass of sharks, and the new marine sanctuary is geared especially towards their conservation. Under its terms, a no-take zone incorporating some 15,000 square miles of ocean has been established around the archipelago’s most northern islands, Darwin and Wolf. Other, smaller no-take zones have also been created elsewhere in the islands. Within these new protected areas, fishing of any kind will now be illegal, and other extractive industries are also banned. In total, 32 percent of the waters surrounding the Galapagos will now enjoy complete protection.

The new marine sanctuary in the Galapagos is not the first in the islands. Created in 1998, the Galapagos Marine Reserve offers partial protection to just over 50,000 square miles of surrounding ocean. Industrial fishing is illegal within the reserve’s boundaries, but up until now, small-scale fishing has been permitted. In recent years, this loophole has made it difficult for authorities to keep tabs on fishing activities within the reserve, and illegal fishing has skyrocketed. In particular, the Galapagos’ incredible density of sharks has attracted the attention of the finning trade, forcing conservationists and government officials to take further action.

Nevertheless, although shark populations in the Galapagos have undoubtedly decreased, Charles Darwin Foundation scientist Pelayo Salinas de León claims that the area is still one of “the few places in the world’s oceans where sharks are very abundant.” More than 30 species of shark have been recorded in the Galapagos, and for many (including the endangered scalloped hammerhead) the islands are believed to provide a key breeding ground. As the lead author of a recent study documenting the islands’ marine biodiversity, Salinas speaks from first-hand experience when he says that the Galapagos offers an insight into “how the oceans once were,” and could be again.

With shark populations around the world in catastrophic decline, increased protection for vital areas like the Galapagos has never been more important. In an attempt to ensure that the no-take zones are respected, the new marine sanctuary will also involve increased surveillance as a precaution against illegal fishing. The Ecuadorian government hopes that its actions will not only help to restore shark populations in the Galapagos, but also that by providing a safe area for sharks to breed, they will also aid struggling species in other areas of the world. In addition, the new sanctuary should help to raise the global profile of issues like shark-finning and illegal fishing.

The “pristine waters around the Galapagos archipelago are precious not just for Ecuadorians, but for the whole balance of our ocean systems,” says Ecuador’s environment minister Daniel Ortega Pacheco. “Shark populations in steep decline around the world come here to rest and breed and we want to guarantee complete sanctuary for them.” Protecting the Galapagos’ incredible marine heritage isn’t all about sharks, however. The new sanctuary should also mean a financial gain for the country, with a 2015 economic report stating that while a dead shark generates just $200, a live shark in the Galapagos has a tourism value of around $5.4 million.

To that end, marine-based tourism generates almost $178 million per year in the Galapagos and accounts of one-third of all jobs within the archipelago. In order to ensure that the new sanctuary is supported by native Ecuadorians, the National Geographic Foundation is offering compensation to the local fishing cooperatives that were previously permitted to fish within the new no-take zones. Scientific expeditions and eco-tours will be allowed continued access to these areas, which are sure to hold a greater attraction than ever before for divers and wildlife enthusiasts as the positive effects of the fishing ban become apparent.

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