New Coral Reef Research

Student Editor: Kailyn Gunkler

Coral reefs are one of the most important ecosystems on Earth, and without them, the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere would plummet. Not only do they protect shorelines all across the world from damaging storms and waves, but they also provide a home to millions of marine life such as tropical fish like yellow tangs, vibrant nudibranchs like the blue dragon sea slug, elasmobranchs like black-tip reef sharks, and sea stars in every color you can imagine. Although coral reefs are crucial for us and other organisms to thrive, not many people seem to understand their importance, and some people simply don’t care. Ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate found in sunscreen damages and even kills coral, and the increasing ocean water temperatures cause coral to expel their special algae known as zooxanthellae which results in coral bleaching. Some of you may be wondering how we can all help to make a difference, or curious as to what research is being done in order for scientists to lay out a blueprint for what needs to be done in order to save the reefs before it is too late.

What we do know is that CO2 levels have peaked, and while that’s dangerous for us and other life here on Earth, it’s especially dangerous for vital marine ecosystems. Ocean acidification is a process described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as, “a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period of time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.” When the CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase, so do the hydrogen ions in the ocean which results in more acidic seawater, and a decrease in carbonate ions. NOAA says carbonate ions, “are an important building block of structures such as sea shells and coral skeletons. Decreases in carbonate ions can make building and maintaining shells and other calcium carbonate structures difficult for calcifying organisms such as oysters, clams, sea urchins, shallow water corals, deep sea corals, and calcareous plankton.” The administration goes on to describe how even non-calcifying organisms such as clownfish are negatively affected by the more acidic seawater too because they can’t detect predators as well. This would mean that not only are the ocean habitats at risk as far as their structures go, but the entire food web is in trouble too.

Photo Credit: Allen Foundation supports SOEST efforts to save the world’s coral reefs | SOEST (hawaii.edu)

However, thankfully scientists have come up with a new, innovative way to determine the best way to help restore the coral reefs by using satellites up in the sky. Before this way of research was used, scientists would have to travel to different sites to assess the health of the coral in person which was not only costly, but also time-consuming. However, with the help of the satellites scientists now have access to daily pictures of coral reefs all around the world, and they are able to evaluate what factors are causing the reefs to either die or thrive. Although the use of satellites to help with coral reef restoration efforts isn’t completely new, some of the findings are. For instance, researchers have found that coral does best in water depths of six meters down or more, and the reefs have a better survival rate when they are planted at least six kilometers off the coast. On https://phys.org/news, director of Arizona State University’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (GDCS) and co-author of the Allen Coral Atlas project, Greg Asner said, “Our results provide, for the first time, a clear set of conditions needed to maximize the success of coral restoration efforts. The findings are based on a vast global dataset and provide a critically needed compass to improving the performance of coral outplants in the future.”After asking some students around the school their thoughts on how we can be better, I thought I’d share some of their responses. Some students like a senior here at Woodstock, Kayla Damato, said she is aware that coral reefs “help to keep animals alive and healthy”, and she says that even though she has learned a little bit about the importance of environmental conservation in school, if given the opportunity, she’d like to learn more. Some more students including yet another senior, Emma Hicks, says she has also learned a little bit about the health of our oceans, and if given the chance, she would also learn about environmental conservation. All and all, I loved to hear all of our students ways that they can help out our planet and reefs. Have a great day Woodstock!

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