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USGS study eyes Caribbean tsunami risk

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Could there be a tsunami in the Caribbean?

Guadeloupe seen as focal point for unreleased tectonic strain

Staff Report

FRISCO — The risk of a large earthquake and subsequent tsunami may be greater than previously thought, U.S. Geological Survey researchers say after studying the plate boundary in the Lesser Antilles region, where 20 of the 26 Caribbean islands are located.

The geologists estimate that enough unreleased strain may have accumulated offshore of Guadeloupe to potentially create a magnitude 8.0-8.4 earthquake. A magnitude 7.5 – 8.5 quake in 1843 killed several thousand people in Guadeloupe, and a similar quake in the future could cause several tens to several hundreds of fatalities, and hundreds of millions to billions of U.S. dollars in damages. Continue reading

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Judge says feds must do better job of protecting Caribbean corals from fishing impacts

At the fish market in Negril, Jamaica.

Overfishing of parrot fish in the Caribbean is harming coral reefs. bberwyn photo.

Reef-grazing fish crucial to coral health

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered Caribbean corals got a little help this week from a federal court judge, who ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service must consider how fishing affects reef health.

According to the court, the federal agency erred by allowing fishing for depleted parrotfish and other algae-eating reef fish species without properly monitoring the fishery’s impacts on rare corals that depend on healthy fish populations.

The decision came in response to an Endangered Species Act suit filed in January 2012 by Earthjustice on behalf of two conservation groups, CORALations and the Center for Biological Diversity, and Mary Adele Donnelly. Continue reading

Feds see more threats to Caribbean corals

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Elkhorn corals in the Caribbean are feeling the heat of global warming. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Fisheries Service gets deadline for recovery plan under court settlement

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Two key coral species around Florida need even more TLC than previously thought, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which wants to reclassify elkhorn and staghorn corals from “threatened” to the even more serious category of “endangered” because of their rapid decline.

The agency also agree to speed up finalization of a recovery plan under a court settlement that sets a 2014 deadline. These corals were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2006 because of threats from global warming and ocean acidification but, before today’s settlement agreement, had still not received the legally required recovery plan needed to save them from extinction. Continue reading

Oceans: Native predators won’t halt lionfish invasion

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Invasive lionfish won’t be controlled by native predators, leaving human intervention as the main option for management. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Active removal by humans probably the only option for removal

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Invasive lionfish have colonized the Caribbean and have moved up the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. as far as North Carolina, where they now threaten local fish populations, according to marine biologists at the University of North Carolina.

Not only that, but the spiny invaders are out-predating fish like sharks and barracudas, threatening to throw coral reef ecosystems out of whack. The only recourse is human intervention, the scientists said after publishing a paper in the journal PLOS ONE. showing that native predators won’t have much luck supressing the unwanted guests.

“Lionfish are here to stay, and it appears that the only way to control them is by fishing them,” said John Bruno, professor of biology in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and lead investigator of the study.  Continue reading

Coral reef research highlights big drop in growth rates

Caribbean corals struggling to produce enough calcium carbonate to survice

A coral reef at the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy Jim Maragos/USFWS.

A coral reef at the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy Jim Maragos/USFWS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Many coral reefs in the Caribbean are struggling to keep pace with erosion, as their ability to produce and accumulate calcium carbonate declines in the face of human-caused impacts, researchers from the University of Exeter reported this week. That inability to grow raises serious questions about whether the reefs will be able to adapt to rising sea levels, the researchers reported.

Coral reefs are important ocean biodiversity hotspots and serve as nurseries for a profusion of marine life. In a sweeping decision several weeks ago, federal biologists said at least 66 species of coral in the Caribbean and Pacific are in danger of going extinct because of threats linked to global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Coral cover on reefs in the Caribbean has declined by an average of 80 percent since the 1970s, driven mainly by human disturbance, disease and rising sea temperatures, and are only expected to intensify as a result of future climate change. Continue reading

Puerto Rico manatees threatened by lack of genetic diversity

Manatees at risk in Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy NOAA.

USGS research shows isolated population

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Puerto Rico’s manatees could be threatened by extinction because they are relatively isolated genetically, with no cross-breeding between the Puerto Rico population  and those in Florida.

The findings, which come from a study of West Indian manatees by the U.S. Geological Survey and Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center, could help resource managers make decisions about how to conserve the endangered marine mammal. Continue reading

Tropical Storm Sandy forms, likely to hit Jamaica

Slow-moving storm headed for Cuba, Bahamas

Tropical Storm Sandy is quickly gathering strength in the southwestern Caribbean and could rake much of Jamaica with 70 mph winds.

Tropical Storm Sandy gathers strength over the Caribbean.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Tropical Storm Sandy, the 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, is generating winds of 40 mph and gaining strength over the warm waters of the Caribbean, south of Cuba. Tropical storm warnings have been issued for Jamaica and Haiti, where five to 10, and up to 16 inches of rain may fall, leading to dangerous flash flooding.

The storm is expected to be at or near hurricane strength when it approaches the south coast of Jamaica Wednesday, with sustained winds of 80 mph. For now, Tropical storm-force winds extend out about 70 miles from the center of the storm.

Once the storm tracks across Jamaica and Cuba the forecast models diverge, with some forecasts turning the storm out to sea, while others bring the system closer to the U.S. East Coast.

The storm is expected to intensify the next couple of days, then weaken as it interacts with the mountainous terrain of the islands, and starts to encounter southwest wind shear, but could still be packing winds of 65 mph as it nears the Bahamas later in the week.

Biodiversity: Pacific coral reefs found to be more resilient than their seaweed-afflicted counterparts in the Caribbean

A NASA satellite images shows dust streaking off the Sahara and across the Atlantic. The dust may be a factor in Caribbean coral reef decline.

Saharan dust storms may be a factor in Caribbean reef health

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Coral reefs in the Caribbean have declined much faster than their counterparts in the Indo-Pacific region, and scientists know think they know at least part of the reason — seaweed.

Seaweed grows much more prolifically in the Caribbean, possibly because of the iron-rich dusts that blow off the Sahara and are carried across the Atlantic by the Trade Winds.

Along with fending off the stresses of global warming, pollution and overfishing, the Caribbean reefs have to deal with more of the aquatic vegetation.

As a result, coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region, including the Great Barrier Reef, recover faster from major stresses than their Caribbean counterparts. Continue reading

Immediate action needed to preserve coral reefs

NOAA is able to detect coral reef bleaching with high resolution satellite images.

International reef symposium in Australia highlights latest research

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — It’s not easy these days being an optimist if you’re a coral reef researcher. Most recent studies suggest that ever-warmer and increasingly acidified oceans represent a death-spiral for many beloved reef ecosystems, with significant signs of decline already observed in the Caribbean and other ocean regions.

But some of the world’s leading marine scientists, gathered in Cairns, Australia for a quadrennial international reef symposium think there’s a good chance to preserve at least some important reefs — if we act now.

That could be critical not just for the reef ecosystems themselves, but for the 81 nations and 500 million people who depend on them.

“I’m an optimist – you have to be, to devote your life to this field,” said Dr. John Pandolfi, with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and University of Queensland. Continue reading

New Caribbean species named after Bob Marley

Tiny parasites may transmit diseases that affect the overall health of coral reef ecosystems.

Scientists explore the role of fish parasites in coral reef ecosystem health

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A marine researcher exploring links between coral reef health, fish and tiny parasitic crustaceans recently described a new species that might help answer some of the questions.

And showing that scientists can have a sense of humor and style, he named the new species after the late reggae musician Bob Marley.

The small blood feeder — the ocean equivalent of a tick — infests certain fish living in coral reefs of the shallow eastern Caribbean. Paul Sikkel, an assistant professor of marine ecology and a field marine biologist at Arkansas State University, named the species Gnathia marleyi. Continue reading

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