Climate: Coral reefs taking a big hit this year

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

Coral reefs in the Caribbean, like this one in the U.S. Virgin Islands, are at risk of bleaching as global warming heats up the world’s oceans. Photo by Caroline Rogers/USGS.

Warm oceans leading to widespread reef bleaching

Staff Report

FRISCO — Ocean researchers have updated their warnings of potential coral reef bleaching based on unusually warm ocean temperatures across the north Pacific, equatorial Pacific, and western Atlantic oceans this summer.

Scientists with NOAA’s coral reef watch say they expect  bleaching of corals on Northern Hemisphere reefs through October, potentially leading to the death of corals over a wide area and affecting the long-term supply of fish and shellfish.

“The bleaching that started in June 2014 has been really bad for corals in the western Pacific,” said Mark Eakin, NOAA Coral Reef Watch coordinator. “We are worried that bleaching will spread to the western Atlantic and again into Hawaii.” Continue reading

Key Biscayne National Park establishes new marine reserve to try and restore coral reef ecosystem

A spiny lobster in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.

A spiny lobster in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, where protective management has helped rebuild fish stocks. Key Biscayne National Park hopes that a new protected area will help restore coral reefs. Photo courtesy NOAA.

No-fishing zone seen as key piece of new management plan

Staff Report

FRISCO — The National Park Service says a 10,000-acre no-fishing zone will help restore the heart of Key Biscayne National Park’s coral reef ecosystem and boost fish populations in surrounding waters.

The new marine reserve was announced earlier this month as part of an updated management plan for the popular park near Miami. The no–fishing zone covers about 6 percent of the park’s waters. Some other ecologically important shoreline areas will be protected by slow-speed, no-wake, and no-motor zones to benefit seagrass beds, manatees, mangroves and nesting birds. Continue reading

Climate: Genetic study shows some corals may have fighting chance to survive warmer oceans

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Can a genetic ‘mix-and-match effort save some coral species from global warming? Photo courtesy NOAA.

Mixing and matching corals from different latitudes may boost reef survival

Staff Report

FRISCO — If global warming can be capped at a reasonable level, some coral reefs may have a fighting chance to adapt to warmer ocean waters, according to new genetic research.

The new study suggests some coral species already have genetic variants necessary to tolerate warm ocean waters, and humans can help to spread these genes, said a team of scientists from The University of Texas at Austin, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Oregon State University. Continue reading

Climate: Hope for coral reefs?

Coral reef ecosystems are likely to change dramatically as oceans absorb more carbon dioxide. PHOTO COURTESY EPA.

Coral reefs may not be completely doomed after all, although it may all depend on exactly how hot it gets.

New study says temperature thresholds not the end-all to coral reef survival

Staff Report

FRISCO — Many coral reefs will definitely struggle to survive the global warming era, but the devastation may not be as widespread as once believed.

New research that looked beyond simple temperature thresholds shows a more nuanced picture in which the survival of reefs is linked not only to temperatures, but to how they respond to other stress, including pollution. Continue reading

Trouble ahead for the Great Barrier Reef?

A NASA satellite photo shows a slice of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

A NASA satellite photo shows a slice of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Ancient climate clues warn about impacts of modern human activities

Staff Report

FRISCO — Turbulent seas, loaded with sediment and nutrients at the end of the last ice age likely set back growth of the Great Barrier Reef by centuries, according to scientists who recently took a close look at the reef’s biological history.

The findings are important because those environmental conditions are similar to what the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing today as a result of human activities, including the controversial coal port dredging that’s seen as a huge threat to Australia’s cherished ocean landmark. Continue reading

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

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