Recovery plans describe actions beneficial for the conservation and recovery of species listed under the ESA. The goal, objectives, and criteria of the plan represent NOAA Fisheries’ expectation of conditions to recover elkhorn and staghorn corals so they no longer need the protective measures provided by the ESA.
Coral reefs are in rapid decline on a global scale due to human activities and a changing climate. Shallow water reefs depend on the obligatory symbiosis between the habitat forming coral host and its algal symbiont from the genus Symbiodinium (zooxanthellae). This association is highly sensitive to thermal perturbations and temperatures as little as 1°C above the average summer maxima can cause the breakdown of this symbiosis, termed coral bleaching. Predicting the capacity of corals to survive the expected increase in seawater temperatures depends strongly on our understanding of the thermal tolerance of the symbiotic algae. Here we use molecular phylogenetic analysis of four genetic markers to describe Symbiodinium thermophilum, sp. nov. from the Persian/Arabian Gulf, a thermally tolerant coral symbiont. Phylogenetic inference using the non-coding region of the chloroplast psbA gene resolves S. thermophilum as a monophyletic lineage with large genetic distances from any other ITS2 C3 type found outside the Gulf. Through the characterisation of Symbiodinium associations of 6 species (5 genera) of Gulf corals, we demonstrate that S. thermophilum is the prevalent symbiont all year round in the world’s hottest sea, the southern Persian/Arabian Gulf.
As this will likely be the last post before this assignment is due, I would like to close with something positive and a recent piece of research carried out by an international research team on the Great Barrier Reef.
Team examines genes to identify those that allow coral to adapt to high carbon dioxide levels and more acidic oceans
A reef-building coral that can survive a more acidic ocean is giving scientists hope that the world’s reefs stand a chance against climate change.
International researchers have been using juvenile corals from the Great Barrier Reef to study the impacts of ocean acidification. A large portion of the world’s carbon emissions and greenhouse gases are being absorbed by the ocean, leading to higher acidity levels and decreasing ocean pH, which is harming coral reefs.
Dr. Aurelie Moya, a James Cook University ecologist, has been leading research into how baby corals’ genes react to a more acidic ocean and the findings have been promising.
Formation of baby corals had been disrupted when exposed to high carbon dioxide levels over three days. But after nine days the corals had readjusted. Moya stated “longer exposure seems to be less detrimental to coral health than we had assumed based on shorter-term studies. These findings suggest that baby corals have the capacity to acclimate to elevated carbon dioxide.” The research team examined tens of thousands of coral genes and was able to identify those responsible for enabling acclimation to high carbon dioxide.
Professor David Miller, the study’s co-author, said the findings were especially significant as they centered on staghorn coral. (Staghorn corals are the key reef-building corals throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans and are traditionally considered to have low stress tolerance). He highlighted the study provided a glimmer of hope that coral reefs could withstand the effects of ocean acidification.
However Moya and Miller sounded a warning on the combined effect of increased carbon dioxide and warming oceans. “This study focused on one single stressor – ocean acidification – but we must keep in mind that the combination of several stressors, such as ocean acidification and warming, could lead to larger impacts on baby corals.”
It’s officially confirmed: chickens can help save coral reefs!
A new campaign by Global Giving called – “Happy Chickens for Food Security and Environment” – is promoting their website throughout December to support community-based no-take MPAs by replacing the protein lost during initial project establishment, as well as preventing increased fishing pressure on the remaining fished reefs.
It is widely recognised that poverty and lack of alternative protein sources are directly linked to overfishing, which in turn leads to coral reef decline as coral grazers plague and filamentous algae overgrows the reef. Reef degradation in turn leads to increased levels of hunger and more desperate acts of destructive fishing.
For those of you interested in Arabian coral reefs, you may like to read a recent study which compares coral communities at 13 locations around Muscat, Oman, from 1993 against surveys at the same sites in 2012.
The observations suggest that there has been a decline of both hard and soft coral at most sites over the past two decades, with losses mainly attributed to the 2007 cyclone Gonu, as well as impacts from the 2008/9 harmful algal bloom; other factors are also discussed.
The coastline of Muscat, Oman, contains some of the most extensive and diverse coral reefs in the northeastern Arabian Peninsula. In the past two decades this region has been impacted by expanding coastal development, the largest cyclone ever recorded in the Arabian Sea, and a large-scale harmful algal bloom which resulted in mass mortality of reefs elsewhere in the Gulf of Oman. In 2012 we estimated live and dead coral using manta tow observations on 370 transects at 13 locations along the coastline and nearshore islands of Muscat Oman. We compared these estimates against observations made on 389 transects at the same 13 locations two decades earlier (1993–94) in order to determine long-term changes in benthos along the Muscat coast. Results were mapped and differences in categorical mean values for transect locations were statistically compared between survey years. Live hard and soft coral decreased over the past two decades at most survey sites, and decreases were significant at three exposed coastline sites and one semi-enclosed embayment. One sheltered embayment site showed a significant increase in live hard coral over the study period. Declines in live hard coral were associated with increases in dead coral framework at 8 of the 13 sites, but these changes were non-significant. We attribute these changes primarily to long-term effects of Cyclone Gonu, which struck the Oman coast in June 2007. The study results suggest that the manta tow method can be an effective way to detect long-term changes in coral and other benthic parameters over large areas, despite limitations on its precision.
The government of Hawaii have reached an agreement with a cargo shipowner for damages his 733 ft bulk carrier made to 103,027 coral colonies, after running aground off Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor, Oahu in 2010. The Denak Ship Management and Vogetrader Shipping Inc. will pay US $840,000 to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the damage. In addition US $695,657 of the settlement will be used to restore and protect the reef. The remaining sum will reimburse the agency for assessing the damage.
The 733 ft bulk carrier M/V VogeTrader after it ran aground near Oahu, on February 5, 2010. The milky color in the water beneath the ship is the pulverized coral.
Check out this awesome time-lapse video of corals on the Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Using time-lapse photography, Dr. Pim Bongaerts (University of Queensland), found a way to show how the coral moves and grows.
Some of these videos are shot in aquaria and some are set up in the waters around Heron Island, Australia. Pictures are taken every 10-20 minutes to allow the coral communities to be examined over several months.