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Study: Sharks crucial to coral reef health

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Sharks, apex predators of many ocean ecosystems, play a key role in maintaining coral reef health. Photo courtesy NOAA.

As apex predators, sharks play an important role in regulating ecosystems, including coral reefs

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with the stresses of global warming and pollution, shark fishing may be another important factor in the decline of coral reefs, according to Canadian and Australian scientists.

“Where shark numbers are reduced due to commercial fishing, there is also a decrease in the herbivorous fishes which play a key role in promoting reef health,” said Jonathan Ruppert, a recent University of Toronto PhD graduate. Ruppert was part of a team engaged in long-term monitoring of reefs off Australia’s northwest coast.

Team leader Mark Meekan, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said the study suggests that, where shark numbers are reduced, there is a fundamental change in the structure of food chains on reef. Continue reading

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Biodiversity: Great Barrier reef has lost half its coral cover

Outbreaks of the coral eating crown of thorns starfish have been responsible for 42 percent of the over 50 percent decline in coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef between 1985 and 2012. Photo courtesy Katharina Fabricius, Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Multiple short-interval disturbances causing long-term decline, with southern areas hit hardest

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Australian researchers say the Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral cover in the past 27 years, with more impacts expected as the climate warms in coming decades. About half (46 percent) of the loss was from storm damage, with another 42 percent attributed to crown of thorns starfish and 10 percent lost to bleaching.

“We can’t stop the storms but, perhaps we can stop the starfish. If we can, then the reef will have more opportunity to adapt to the challenges of rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification, says John Gunn, CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville. Continue reading

Ocean temps drive coral growth — and decline

A Green moray eel emerging from a surface of white and blue hard corals and a red soft coral in Palau. PHOTO COURTESY CHUCK SAVALL.

New study helps pinpoint global warming impacts

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Drilling into coral reef growth bands — much like dendrochronologists study tree rings — enabled Australian researchers to pinpoint impacts of changing sea temperatures, showing that warming oceans have boosted coral growth in some areas — at least in the short-term. In other areas, oceans have already become to warm for optimum coral growth.

The scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science cautioned that, despite those findings, rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification pose serious long-term threats to coral reefs, explaining that their research helps clarify the relative impact of these two threats to date. Continue reading

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