Monday, September 22, 2008

Saving Our Oceans

A number of island nations, such as the Kiribati of the Pheonix Islands are establishing marine reserves in the hopes of conserving coral reefs around the globe. According to the article "Saving Our Oceans" in the September 2008 issue of Smithsonian magazine, over 1/3 of the world's coral reefs face extinction. I encouare you to read the article, use the internet to explore another marine reserve and to answer the following questions:

Discovery Questions:
1. Name and describe the physical and biolocial components of another reef ecosystem around the world? For one point extra, turn in an ecosystem map of a coral reef habitat.
2. What human activites do scientists contribute to the decline of coral reefs?
3. Why are sharks considered keystone species of many reefs, according to the article?
4. How do environmental scientists monitor the health of coral reefs?
5. What are the economic complexities around the establishment of a marine reserve, as explained in the article and your research?
6. What is the role of the Endangered Species Act and conservation organisations in preserving our oceans?

Our Imperiled Oceans -
World's Coral Reefs Face New Threats -
Map Reveals Extensive Damage to World's Oceans -

1 comment:

malav said...

1. The Great Barrier Reef is located on the northeastern coastal waters of Australia. It actually consists of more than 2,800 individual coral reefs. Coral consist of layers of organisms called polyps. As the polyps bud and reproduce, the coral grows and spreads its range of existence. Most of the Great Barrier Reef is relatively offshore, because In order to successfully survive, coral needs clear, open water. The less the nutrients, the more conducive the environment is to overall coral growth. Sediment and levels of phytoplankton in the water contribute to a generally cloudy appearance. Also, to the human eye the coral reef appears to be a blue-green color; in actuality, it is much more vivid, but the water filters out much of the different shades of light. Over 1500 species of fish exist in the Great Barrier Reef. A further amount of approximately thirty species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises have also been recorded there. Six different turtle species inhabit the Great Barrier Reef at various times of the year. Over 5,000 mollusk species have been found on the Reef. Other inhabitants include various species of sea snakes, frogs, salt water crocodiles, seabirds, clams, and seahorses. 500 seaweed species live on the reef, along with an additional 350 woody plant species. The coral itself varies between both hard and soft types.
2. Scientists attribute the decline of coral reefs to many human activities. Over fishing, the destruction of a reef’s components unsustainably so as to prevent an adequate recovery of population levels is one factor that leads to reef destruction. Many species become endangered in this manner, and others that already are endangered become extinct. Poisonous pollution in the ocean also contributes to the destruction of coral reefs. Toxic chemicals and waste released into the water enter the coral reefs through the polyps. When the polyps die, the reefs have no way of reproducing, and growth stops. This pollution can come from sources including oil spills, exhaust from boats, or even acid rain. Human contributions to global warming also effect coral reef growth greatly. Increased temperatures cause more water to evaporate; this brings many reefs above water where they cannot breath, leading to death. Also, warm waters often times cause a greater level of acidity in the water. This shift kills the coral reefs, causing a seemingly bleaching effect that results in an underwater ghost town without life. The shifting baseline syndrome is the phenomenon that over time, a reef’s population becomes smaller and smaller to the extent that scientists cannot accurately identify a healthy, historically accurate population number.
3. Sharks are keystone species in coral reefs; they have a greater then expected environmental impact. Scientists have found a positive correlation between the amount of shark population and the levels of coral reef growth. An attempt to describe the relationship is that because of a prevalence of sharks, organisms that fall prey to sharks, largely herbivores, seek to reproduce more often in order to survive. As a result, more algae are consumed as a source of energy. Algae have a tendency to stifle coral reef growth by releasing sugar into the water that attracts bacteria. The bacteria, in turn, cause diseases that rid of coral reef population. So, less of an algae population leads to less diseasing-causing bacteria that prevent coral growth.
4. One method of assessing a coral reef’s health is the population density of its marine life. A coral reef with a great amount of marine life is healthier than one with little marine life. This is known because so-called pristine areas of ocean, where little to no human effects have been felt, have coral reefs with multitudes of fish and other marine life. A diverse, large population of organisms suggests that the ecosystem not only has the capacity to provide nutrients, shelter, and energy sources in large numbers, but also that a wide range of nutrients, shelter, and energy sources are available to support a wide life spectrum. Factors such as salinity, pollution levels, levels of phytoplankton in the water, water currents, and water temperature all have an impact on the growth rate of polyps, which create the coral reefs directly. So, by also monitoring these factors, scientists can get an idea of the coral reef’s health.
5. Establishing a marine reserve necessitates the ending of all fishing activities in the respective area. In the Phoenix Islands case, small-scale fishing could be rid of with no major hassles. However, the $80 million large-scale fishing industry had a major economic impact. The government, and fishing industry, had to be completely convinced that the establishment of a marine reserve would be worth the loss in profits. In this case, they were compensated for money lost because of the establishment of the marine reserve. An alternative source of profit could be the eco-tourism industry born out of the conserved coral reef areas. But, ultimately the highest economic yield is the satisfaction of conserving a vital ecosystem, critical to the overall ocean’s health. Another economic benefit of the coral reef flourishing is the protection/barrier it provides against waves. By establishing a marine reserve, the coral reef survives to diffuse extremely powerful waves. Now, the island will be shielded from excessive battering, resulting in further economic gain.
6. The Endangered Species Act calls for the protection of species that are in danger of extinction. In coral reefs, there exist many such endangered species. In order to protect the survival of these endangered species, their respective habitats must be prevented from destruction. Therefore, the Endangered Species Act also calls for the conservation of the coral reef ecosystem. In the marine field, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act. Critical habitat areas are designated, where attention is especially necessary. By including a coral reef in such a bracket, its conservation is heavily favored.