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New species found in threatened New Guinea lagoon

Crinoid on the reef of Batu Moncho Island, Indonesia.

Crinoid on the reef of Batu Moncho Island, Indonesia. Photo courtesy Alexander Vasenin via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Science team explores little-known reef ecosystem

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — An idyllic tropical lagoon threatened by pollution from a tuna cannery is a Pacific Ocean biodiversity hotspot, according to researchers from Nova Southeastern University, who recently surveyed the ocean off Papua New Guinea.

The study found numerous new species of marine life, including sea slugs, feather stars  and amphipods. There was more variety of these indicator species found than there is along the entire length of Australia’s 1,600-mile Great Barrier Reef, said Jim Thomas, a researcher at Nova Southeastern University’s National Coral Reef Institute in Hollywood, Florida.

“In the Madang Lagoon, we went a half mile out off the leading edge of the active Australian Plate and were in 6,000 meters of water,” said Thomas, Ph.D., a researcher at Nova Southeastern University’s National Coral Reef Institute in Hollywood, Fla.

“It was once believed there were no reefs on the north coast of Papua New Guinea since there were no shallow bays and lagoons typical of most coral reef environments. But there was lots of biodiversity to be found.” Continue reading

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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

Australia planning world’s largest marine sanctuary

Coral Sea preserve could be vital regional biodiversity reservoir

The Coral Sea preserve could be an important refuge for sea turtles. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

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By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —Two leading scientists are urging Australians to support a government plan to create one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries in the Coral Sea.

“The Coral Sea is one of a handful of places in the world where a very large oceanic no-take park can be created and monitored in a single national jurisdiction,” said Professors Terry Hughes and Bob Pressey of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University. “Public comment on the proposal is now open – and it is time for all Australians to have their say.”

Details of the Commonwealth’s Coral Sea Marine Park proposal are available at http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/coralsea/ Public comment closes on February 24, 2012. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Fish stories

Divers document unusual relationship at Indonesian reef

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Divers near Indonesia last year documented a new and unusual interaction between an octopus and a fish that may shed new light on predator – prey relationships in coral reef ecoystems.

Divin near Indonesia, Godehard Kopp of the University of Gottingen, Germany, filmed an unexpected pairing between a mimic octopus and a black-marble jawfish.

The mimic octopus impersonates toxic flatfish, lionfish, and even sea snakes by creatively configuring its limbs, adopting characteristic undulating movements, and displaying bold brown-and-white color patterns. The disguises enable the octopus to swim in the open with little fear of predators.

The jawfish, on the other hand, is a small and timid fish. It spends most of its adult life close to a sand burrow, where it will quickly retreat upon sighting a predator.

During the diving encounter, the black-marble jawfish was seen closely following a mimic octopus as it moved across the sandy bottom. The jawfish had brown-and-white markings similar to the octopus, and was difficult to spot among the many arms. The octopus, for its part, did not seem to notice or care.

Kopp sent the video to Rich Ross and Luiz Rocha of the California Academy of Sciences, who identified the jawfish species. Since this association had not been recorded before, they published their observations online last month in the scientific journal Coral Reefs. The authors surmise that the jawfish hitches a ride with the octopus for protection, allowing it to venture away from its burrow to look for food—a case of “opportunistic mimicry.”

“This is a unique case in the reefs not only because the model for the jawfish is a mimic itself, but also because this is the first case of a jawfish involved in mimicry,” said Dr. Luiz Rocha, assistant curator of ichthyology at the California Academy of Sciences. “Unfortunately, reefs in the Coral Triangle area of southeast Asia are rapidly declining mostly due to harmful human activities, and we may lose species involved in unique interactions like this even before we get to know them.”

NOAA expands coral reef early warning system to Saipan

About 75 percent of Earth’s coral reef ecosystems are threatened

Coral reefs span the tropics and subtropics around the planet.

A diverse coral reef in the U.S. Virgin Islands. PHOTO BY CAROLINE ROGERS/USGS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With up to 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs threatened by a combination of local and global pressure, resource managers need all they help they can get, and that includes information about  environmental conditions that could weaken or kill high-value reefs.

As part of its reef conservation initiatives, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has expanded its early warning system by adding a new coral observing station added in Lao Lao Bay, Saipan., part of the Marianas Islands. The new station is a first-of-its-kind for the Pacific region and joins a network of other monitoring stations in Caribbean and Atlantic tropical waters that assist officials conserve, protect and manage reef ecosystems.

The station will collect and transmit a suite of observations, including warm water conditions that could trigger a coral bleaching event. Data will also be used by researchers and managers to understand the complex physical, chemical and biological processes influencing the health of coral reef ecosystems. Continue reading

Coral ‘sunscreen’ has potential benefits for humans

Researchers at King’s College London have discovered how coral produces natural sunscreen compounds to protect itself from damaging UV rays, leading scientists to believe these compounds could form the basis of a new type of sunscreen for humans. This image was taken during a trip to the Great Barrier Reef to collect samples for analysis. Photo courtesy Australian Institute for Marine Science and King's College London.

New discoveries could also help scientists develop more productive crops for tropical regions

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Learning how coral produces its own natural UV protection could help researchers develop new types of sunscreen for humans — and may also help increase crop yields of plants grown in the bright sunlight of the tropics.

Researchers at King’s College London say their research has begun to uncover the genetic and biochemical processes behind how algae living in symbiosis with coral produces the sun-blocking substances. They hope to recreate the process synthetically in a lab for use in developing sun protection.

This month, as part of the three-year project funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the King’s team collected coral samples for analysis from the Great Barrier Reef, a collaboration with Dr Walter Dunlap from the Australian Institute for Marine Science and Prof Malcolm Shick from the University of Maine USA. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Marine life rebounds in Baja ocean preserve

Jacks are among the fish species flourishing in Cabo Pulmo. Image: Octavio Aburto-Oropeza/iLCP

Enforcement of strict no-take fishing regs seen as key to recovery

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Conservation efforts have paid big dividends for residents of a small coastal town in Baja, where local no-take fishing regulations have helped sea life make a dramatic recovery in the last 10 years.

Protection of spawning areas for large predators are one of the keys to the recovery, but simple enforcement of the fishing restrictions may be the most important step, according to researchers who studied marine life near Cabo Pulma for 10 years..

The results of the study, published recently in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE journal, show that the total biomass in a marine national park near Cabo Pulma increased by 460 percent between 1999 and 2009. The area was previously depleted from over-fishing.

In 1995, the park was established and locals strictly enforce the no-take restrictions. The Cabo Pulma success story can serve as a model for other locally based conservation efforts, said Exequiel Ezcurra, director of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States. Continue reading

Weekend headlines and top stories

Still some confusion about global warming science ...

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —A lively mix of stories in our most-viewed sidebar today, including a contribution from Matt Krane on visiting with Taos author John Nichols, a winter weather forecast from Grand Junction-based climatologist Joe Ramey and a look at a new Yale study that assesses the state of climate science knowledge of the American public. Click on the headlines below to see what other people are reading at Summit Voice, and don’t forget to use the buttons at the bottom of the post to share the stories on your social networks.

A few more of the weekend headlines …

New coral reefs discovered in Mediterranean

A 'ghost shark' photographed near a new coral reef discovered by University of Haifa researchers.

Researchers call for creation of a deep sea preserve

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Deep sea exploration has been one of the most exciting science frontiers, with new species still being discovered on a regular basis. In one of the latest missions, a team of scientists from the University of Haifa reported finding a new coral reef in the Mediterranean Sea about 30 to 40 kilometers off the coast of Tel Aviv.

The reef stretches over a few kilometers, 700 meters under the surface. According to the researchers, this southeastern region of the Mediterranean has only sparse sea life and they likened their discovery to finding an oasis in the middle of an arid expanse. Continue reading

Indonesian coral reefs hit hard by global warming

La Niña spikes sea surface temps in western Pacific

NOAA tracks coral reef hotspots with a special website. Click on the image to visit the page.

Temperature-sensitive coral reefs are feeling the heat of global warming this year.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A rapid response team of marine biologists from the World Conservation Society is investigating what they say could be the most widespread incident of coral reef bleaching recorded in the past few decades.

Results of the initial May survey in May show that up to 60 percent of corals in near the northern tip of the island of Sumatra have bleached as water temperatures in the area climbed well above normal. The scientists found that 80 percent of some species have died since the initial assessment and more colonies are expected to die within the next few months.

That, in turn, will have huge impacts on the reef fishery, critical to residents of the area who depend on it for their livelihood. Continue reading

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