Environment: Top predatory fish needed to maintain balance in coral reef ecosystems

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Australian study shows how recreational and commercial fishing affect reef health

Staff Report

FRISCO —Biologists have long known that removing key predators from the food chain has top-down impacts on ecosystems, and a new study by Australian researchers shows the same holds true for coral reefs. Fishing, they say, is having a big impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

The loss of species like coral trout and snappers has altered the balance and structure of the coral reef ecosystem, raising the number of herbivorous and small prey fish, the scientists concluded after comparing fish abundance in protected parts of the reef with other areas. Continue reading

Study says dispersants deadlier to coral than oil

One of the impacted corals with attached brittle starfish. Although the orange tips on some branches of the coral is the color of living tissue, it is unlikely that any living tissue remains on this animal. PHOTO COURTESY Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER and BOEMR.

As early as 2012, scientists documented how oil and oil dispersants damaged communities of deep sea coral in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER and BOEMR.

‘It doesn’t take as much dispersant to kill a coral as it does oil’

Staff Report

FRISCO — New laboratory studies on the use of oil dispersants during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill show that the dispersant is more toxic to coldwater corals than the spilled oil.

The findings, published near the fifth anniversary of the spill, may help agencies developing future strategies for applying dispersants at oil spills that are more helpful than harmful to the environment, according to the scientists from Temple University and Penn State University. Continue reading

Environment: How to save the Great Barrier Reef

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A section of the Great Barrier Reef photographed from the International Space Station.

Australian scientists offer common-sense plan to restore coral reef ecosystem

Staff Report

FRISCO — After a 40-year span when the Great Barrier Reef lost half its coral cover, and with global warming looming for the future, Australian scientists say fundamental changes are needed to protect the reef.

Better policies focusing on science, protection and conservation are the key, a team of leading researchers wrote this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, arguing that all the stressors on the Reef need to be reduced for it to recover. Continue reading

Climate Change: New study enables detailed projections of coral reef bleaching

More information equals more conservation options

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Bleached white corals in the Cheeca Rocks area of Florida. Photo via NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — After issuing a general warning about the potential for widespread coral reef bleaching this year, federal scientists now say they have the ability to make more detailed projections about the timing and geographic distribution of such events.

The concerns this summer focus around emerging El Niño conditions, which could overheat parts of the world’s oceans that have already been hovering at near-record temperatures. Most coral reefs in  the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico will experience bleaching by mid-century, but if scientists can pinpoint the timing, it gives them more conservation options. Continue reading

Protected zones pay off for Great Barrier Reef

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A NASA Earth Observatory view of the Great Barrier Reef.

Study shows rebound of coral trout in no-fishing zones

Staff Report

FRISCO — Long-term monitoring in the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem shows that marine protection pays off in a big way, as scientists said that coral trout biomass has more than doubled since the 1980s in the green zones.

The trout in the protected reserves are bigger and more abundant than those in fished “blue zones” of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and they are also better able to cope with cyclone damage, according to a long-term study published today in Current Biology. Similar approaches may be beneficial for coral reefs around the world, the researcher concluded. Continue reading

Scientists urge greater care of World Heritage sites

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Australia’s Great Barrier Reef seen from a NASA satellite.

‘As a wealthy country, Australia has the capability and responsibility to improve its management of the reef’

FRISCO — Strong local management may be the key to preserving treasured world heritage sites, researchers concluded in a new study after taking a close look at threats facing the Amazon Rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef and Spain’s Doñana wetlands.

The team of scientists, who published their findings in the journal Science, said protecting such areas from the larger dangers of climate change requires addressing local threats, for example overfishing, fertilizer pollution and land clearing — all of which can exacerbate the effects of climatic extremes, such as heat waves and droughts. Continue reading

Oceans: Coral breeding success gives some hope for long-term Caribbean reef conservation

Effort could boost genetic diversity of rare species

Mark Vermeij

Pillar coral in the Caribbean. Photo courtesy Mark Vermeij.

Kristen Marhaver

Closeup of pillar coral tentacles. Photo courtesy Kristen Marhaver.

Staff Report

FRISCO — With the global warming clock ticking, scientists working on coral reef conservation say they’ve been able to raise a rare pillar corals in a lab.

The project provides the first photos and documentation of juveniles of this species, and could provide information to help bolster local coral reef conservation, according to the study published in the open access journal BMC Ecology.

The scientist also plan to ‘out-plant’ these lab-grown juveniles in the wild which could help populations become more resilient to climate change. Small juveniles of this species have never been seen in over 30 years of surveys in the Caribbean.  Continue reading

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