Category Archives: Mangrove and Coral Destruction

Seeing the Reef for the Corals

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NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

By Adam Voiland and Alan Buis, NASA / Earth Observatory;

Colonies of coral polyps are some of the most prolific builders in the world. Coral polyps secrete a material that forms a hard calcium carbonate exoskeleton around their base. That hard base protects against marine predators, and generation after generation of polyps build new exoskeletons on top of the old. Over time, the process builds up coral reefs that can become quite large—in many cases, large enough to be viewed from space.

Coral reefs, sometimes called the rainforests of the sea, are one of the most prized ecosystems in the ocean. They are home to about a quarter of all ocean fish species, making them hot spots of biodiversity. They protect shorelines from storms, provide food for millions of people, and provide economic benefits by encouraging tourism. Despite their value, few of the world’s reefs have been studied. Some have been examined through expensive, labor-intensive diving expeditions, but many have never been surveyed at all.

“Right now, the state of the art for collecting coral reef data is scuba diving with a tape measure,” said Eric Hochberg, scientist at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. “It’s analogous to looking at a few trees and then trying to say what the forest is doing.”

As global temperatures rise and the ocean becomes increasingly acidic, many researchers are concerned that the future for the world’s reefs is grim. Observations to date suggest that 33 to 50 percent of Earth’s coral reefs have been significantly degraded or lost in recent decades. Some reef scientists think that most functioning reef ecosystems will disappear by the middle of the 21st century.

Hochberg shares the concern, but he also sees indications that some types of corals may be resilient. He argues that to make definitive statements about how reefs are changing on a regional or global scale, scientists need data that offers a big-picture view, not just snapshots of what is happening at certain sites.

To get this big picture view, Hochberg is leading a project that will use aircraft to monitor entire reef systems in Florida, Hawaii, Palau, the Mariana Islands, and Australia. The COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) will use an airborne instrument called the Portable Remote Imaging Spectrometer (PRISM) to gather the data. PRISM will offer high temporal resolution and below cloud flight altitudes that make it possible to resolve spatial features as small as 30 centimeters (12 inches).

Hochberg’s team plans to visit the Republic of Palau, a chain of islands at the far western end of Micronesia. The island chain is comprised of 458 square kilometers (177 square miles) of dry land, and approximately 525 square kilometers (203 square miles) of reefs spread through the ocean. On March 21, 2014, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired a natural-color image of Palau. The top image highlights portions of Ngerbard and Kossel reefs, which are located to the north of Palau’s largest island, Babeldaob.

The reefs are turquoise, with actively growing colonies of coral appearing as a brown linear feature on the outer edges of the reef. Waves—appearing as a white line—are visible breaking along the eastern edge of some of the reefs. The different shades of blue are indicators of the depth of the water. The darkest blues are probably a few kilometers deep. The turquoise areas are covered with approximately one meter (3 feet) of water. The royal blue area is a reef submerged by about 20 meters of water. The channels in the reefs are called passes; they function as places where water can drain easily in and out of the lagoon as tides and winds change.

The second image offers a wider view of the reefs surrounding Babeldaob. About half of Palau’s reefs are barrier reefs. These appear in long stretches along island coastlines, separated from the shoreline by a lagoon. The western side of Babeldaob has a well-developed barrier reef system that extends about 150 kilometers (90 miles); the eastern side has some barrier reefs near the southern part of the island, but they are less developed and have gaps.

Palau’s second most common type of reef—fringing—accounts for about 37 percent of the country’s total reef area. Unlike barriers, fringing reefs develop adjacent to islands with little or no separation from the shore.

Reefs can evolve from one type to another over time. Fringing reefs are the youngest, forming around a volcanic island within a span of 10,000 years. Over the next 100,000 years, such reefs will continue to grow if conditions are right, becoming barrier reefs as the island erodes and subsides.

Although the CORAL campaign will increase the amount of data available on the health of coral reefs significantly, it will cover just three to four percent of the world’s reefs. “Ideally, in a decade or so we’ll have a satellite that can frequently and accurately observe all of the world’s reefs,” said Hochberg.

Original Article, NASA / earth Observatory

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Survey shows Aussies’ love and concern for Great Barrier Reef

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Great barrier of reef, Australia. Photo source: ©© Secruza

Excerpts;

A James Cook University researcher has found more than three quarters of Australians regard the Great Barrier Reef as part of their national identity and nearly 90 per cent believe it is under threat from climate change…

Read Full Article, PhysOrg

Sixty years on, Attenborough back to Great Barrier Reef for new series, Reuters (12-18-2015)

The Great Barrier Reef Like You’ve Never Seen It Before

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Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

Excerpts;

Sir David Attenborough uses new technologies to create an interactive journey, highlighting the perils of climate change.

Attenborough’s “The Great Barrier Reef: An Interactive Journey” is an online expedition packed with virtual reality, time lapses and short films that take you into one of the world’s most prized reefs, its habitants and its climate change-induced decay…

Read Full Article, Huffington Green

David Attenborough and The Great Barrier Reef: Diving the reef for the first time, Independent UK (01-04-2016)
Jacques Cousteau, the father of recreational diving, once said: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever…”

Sixty years on, Attenborough back to Great Barrier Reef for new series, Reuters (12-18-2015)
British naturalist Sir David Attenborough first visited Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 1957, scuba-diving in its crystal clear waters along with an array of species. Nearly 60 years later, the 89-year-old returns to the world’s largest coral reef for a new television series, exploring the spectacular ecosystem…

NASA’s CORAL Campaign Will Raise Reef Studies to a New Level

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The Great Blue Hole is a large underwater sinkhole off the coast of Belize. The hole is circular in shape, over 300 metres (984 ft.) across and 125 metres (410 ft.) deep. The world’s largest natural formation of its kind, the Great Blue Hole is part of the larger Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

By NASA;

A new three-year NASA field expedition gets underway this year that will use advanced instruments on airplanes and in the water to survey more of the world’s coral reefs in far greater detail than has ever been assessed before. The COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) will measure the condition of these threatened ecosystems and create a unique database of uniform scale and quality.

Coral reefs, sometimes called the rainforests of the sea, are home to a quarter of all ocean fish species. They protect shorelines from storms and provide food for millions of people, yet very little of the world’s reef area has been studied scientifically. Virtually all measurements have been made by expensive, labor-intensive diving expeditions. Many reefs never have been surveyed, and those reefs that have been studied were measured only at a few dive sites.

“Right now, the state of the art for collecting coral reef data is scuba diving with a tape measure,” said Eric Hochberg, CORAL principal investigator and scientist at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, St. George’s. “It’s analogous to looking at a few trees and then trying to say what the forest is doing.”

Hochberg’s team will survey the condition of entire reef systems in Florida, Hawaii, Palau, the Mariana Islands and Australia. CORAL will use an airborne instrument called the Portable Remote Imaging Spectrometer (PRISM), developed and managed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Concurrent in-water measurements will validate the airborne measurements of reef condition. In turn, reef condition will be analyzed in the context of the prevailing environment, including physical, chemical, and human factors. The results will reveal how the environment shapes reef ecosystems.

Reefs worldwide are threatened by human impacts and climate change. The limited observations made to date suggest that 33 to 50 percent of our planet’s coral reefs have been significantly degraded or lost, and the concern among reef scientists is that most functioning reef ecosystems will disappear by mid-century.

“We know reefs are in trouble,” Hochberg said. “We’ve seen the reefs of Jamaica and Florida deteriorate and we think we know what is happening there. However, reefs respond in complex ways to environmental stresses such as sea level change, rising ocean temperatures and pollution. The available data were not collected at the appropriate spatial scale and density to allow us to develop an overarching, quantitative model that describes why and how reefs change in response to environmental changes. We need accurate data across many whole reef ecosystems to do that.”

According to Michelle Gierach, a CORAL project scientist at JPL, PRISM was specifically created for remote sensing of coastal and inland waters. PRISM records the spectra of light reflected upward toward the instrument from the ocean below, allowing researchers to pick out the unique spectral signatures of living corals and algae. As corals die, algae increase on a reef, so the ratio of coral to algae is an indicator of the ecosystem’s health.

“Now, estimates of global reef status are synthesized from local surveys with disparate aims, methods and quality,” Gierach said. “With CORAL, we will provide not only the most extensive picture to date of the condition of a large portion of the world’s coral reefs, but a uniform dataset, as well.”

JPL is providing engineering support and management for CORAL’s airborne campaigns under project manager Ian McCubbin. CORAL science team members come from institutions across the United States, each bringing different subject expertise.

After the 2016-2017 field campaign, the CORAL science team will analyze the new data to catalog the relative abundance of coral, algae and sand on each reef. “Then we’ll be able to start making predictions about what might happen to the world’s reefs that are based on numbers, rather than just ideas,” said Hochberg.

Although CORAL will vastly increase the amount of data available on the health of coral reefs, it will cover just three to four percent of the world’s reefs.

“Ideally, in a decade or so we’ll have a satellite that can frequently and accurately observe all of the world’s reefs, and we can push the science and most importantly our understanding even further,” said Hochberg.

NASA funded CORAL through its Earth Venture-Suborbital program, which competitively selects airborne and field investigations that target specific scientific questions, complementing the agency’s satellite missions. Earth Venture-Suborbital, as well as spaceborne Earth Venture mission and instrument investigations are part of NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder program managed at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. NASA’s Earth Venture program supports innovative approaches to address Earth science research with regular and frequent windows of opportunity to accommodate new scientific priorities.

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

Original Article And Learn More, NASA

Rice and palm oil risk to mangroves

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Photo source: ©© Mohri UN-CECAR

Excerpts;

The threat posed by the development of rice and palm oil plantations to mangroves in South-East Asia has been underestimated, a study has suggested.

Rice and oil plantations accounted for 38% of mangrove deforestation between 2000 and 2012, the research showed…

Read Full Article, BBC News

Destruction of Mangroves Costs up to US$42 billion in Economic Damages Annually – UNEP Report (10-14-2014)
The world is losing its mangroves at a faster rate than global deforestation, the United Nations revealed, in a new report “Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action,” adding that the destruction of the coastal habitats was costing billions in economic damages and impacting millions of lives…

Stop Mangrove Destruction In Indonesia To Slow Climate Change, The Ecologist (08-13-2015)
The loss of Indonesia’s coastal mangrove forests for shrimp farming is a huge source of carbon emissions. But equally, a policy flip to preserve and recreate mangroves offers a major climate win…

Coastal Mangrove Squeeze in the Mekong Delta (03-16-2015)
The role of mangrove forests in providing coastal zone stability and protection against flooding is increasingly recognized. The specific root, stem, and canopy system of mangroves is highly efficient in attenuating waves and currents. The sheltered environment created by a healthy mangrove forest offers great sedimentation potential…

Mangroves Help Protect Against Sea Level Rise, Science Daily (07-27-2015)
Mangrove forests could play a crucial role in protecting coastal areas from sea level rise caused by climate change, according to new research involving the University of Southampton…

March of the mangroves good news for blue carbon storage

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Mangrove seedlings. Photo source: ©© Northways

Excerpts;

The carbon capture and storage capacity of wetland vegetation, known as blue carbon, makes coastal habitats some of the most carbon rich ecosystems on the planet. A new study, published in Global Change Biology by Australian environmental scientists investigating the impact of shifts in coastal vegetation over a 70 year period, provides unique insight into how blue carbon stocks change in these dynamic and vulnerable environments…

Read Full Article, PhysOrg

Mangroves Help Protect Against Sea Level Rise, Science Daily (07-27-2015)

Destruction of Mangroves Costs up to US$42 billion in Economic Damages Annually – UNEP Report (10-14-2014)

Sixty years on, Attenborough back to Great Barrier Reef for new series

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Great barrier of reef, Australia. Photo source: ©© Secruza

Excerpts;

British naturalist Sir David Attenborough first visited Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 1957, scuba-diving in its crystal clear waters along with an array of species.

Nearly 60 years later, the 89-year-old returns to the world’s largest coral reef for a new television series, exploring the spectacular ecosystem…

Read Full Article, Reuters (12-18-2015)

Coral reefs could be more vulnerable to coastal development than predicted

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Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

Excerpts;

For years, many scientists thought we had a secret weapon to protect coral reefs from nutrients flushed into the seas by human activity. Experiments suggested that herbivores such as fish, urchins and sea turtles could keep corals and their ecosystems healthy by eating up extra algae that grew in the presence of these nutrients. But a new study sheds doubt on that idea, underscoring the importance of sustainable growth in coastal areas…

Read Full Article, Science Daily

Great Barrier Reef Protecting Against Landslides, Tsunamis

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The birth place of the World’s largest living organism. The Great Barrier Reef extends for 2,000 kilometers along the northeastern coast of Australia. It is not a single reef, but a vast maze of reefs, passages, and coral cays. Photo source: ©© Greens MPs

Excerpts;

The world-famous Australian reef is providing an effective barrier against landslide-induced tsunamis, new research shows. An underwater landslide has been found to have occurred some 20,000 years ago, causing a tsunami. Similar submarine landslides could occur without our knowledge but the Great Barrier Reef can absorb some of that potential wave energy…

Read Full Article, Science Daily

Great Barrier Reef at Risk from Rushed Sediment Dumping Plan at Abbot Point, Guardian UK (12-23-2014)
A plan to dump dredged sediment onto a sensitive wetlands area beside the Great Barrier Reef near Abbot Point would lead to much more slurry being pumped into the waters of the reef than officially estimated, a report has warned…