The Beacon

Blog Tags: Coral Reefs

Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen on '60 Minutes'

On Sunday "60 Minutes" aired a great piece by Anderson Cooper on one of the most pristine coral reefs in the world, the Gardens of the Queen (or Jardines de la Reina) in Cuba.

Diving in, Cooper is not disappointed – he is surrounded by colorful corals, large sharks and a 200-lb critically endangered goliath grouper.

Oceana’s research vessel, the Ranger, sailed to the Gardens of the Queen in 2008, and documented a wide variety of marine life including sharks and sea turtles.

Check it out:


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Friday Infographic: The Rise and Fall of a Coral Reef

This is part of a series of ocean infographics by artist Don Foley. These infographics also appear in Oceana board member Ted Danson’s book, “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”  

Coral reefs cover around 1 percent of the world’s continental shelves, yet they provide habitat and food to at least a quarter of all species in the oceans, including 4,000 species of fish. These diverse habitats also provide food, income and coastal protection for some 500 million people.

Infographic by Don Foley

But coral reefs and the species that rely on them are increasingly threatened by an invisible menace: ocean acidification. Thanks to human-produced carbon dioxide emissions, the oceans are now 30 percent more acidic than they were prior to the industrial revolution and more acidic than at any point over the past 20 million years. Corals and other species are unlikely to be able to adapt to this rapid change in acidity and are likely to suffer severe decline.

Coral reefs are built by tiny, soft coral animals, or polyps. These polyps are relatives of jellyfish and have evolved to secrete calcium carbonate skeletons that provide the polyp with structure and protection.

Colonies of hundreds to thousands of polyps live together as corals and can build huge reef structures over many years. Not only are coral reefs some of the most diverse habitats on Earth, but they are also some of the oldest. Corals grow only millimeters to centimeters per year, and it can take tens to hundreds of thousands of years for large reefs to form.

You can help protect coral reefs by telling your Senators to reduce carbon emissions and stop ocean acidification.


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Ranger Discovers Deep-sea Coral Reef in Mediterranean

News from the deep: Oceana's crew aboard the Ranger has discovered a previously undocumented coral reef in the Alboran Sea in the high seas of the Mediterranean.

The reef, which is located more than 1,300 feet below the surface and covers over 1 million square feet, is formed primarily by white coral. With this discovery, Oceana with be able to glean additional data from the reef to support our efforts to declare new marine protected areas in the Mediterranean.

Coral reefs are the backbone of many marine ecosystems, and deep-sea corals area among the most vulnerable. Tragically, many reefs are destroyed by bottom trawling, a fishing technique akin to clear-cutting that devastates coral reefs and creates seafloor wastelands devoid of life.

And coral reefs aren’t the only habitats that suffer. The area around the newly discovered reef is flourishing with other important habitats including gorgonian gardens and rare glass sponge fields. In order to protect this region, Oceana is planning to present the data to the Barcelona Convention in the near future, pressing officials to list it as a protected area.


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Ocean Hero Finalists: Dylan Vecchione

Dylan explores a coral reef.

This is the eleventh in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

Today’s featured junior ocean hero finalist is 12-year-old Dylan Vecchione, who was nominated for his commitment to coral reef conservation.


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Guest Post: The Rush to Drill in the Caribbean

Image courtesy of Jaime Matera

Editor’s note: It’s not just the U.S. government that’s pushing to drill in our oceans. Guest blogger Jaime Matera is a marine anthropologist who is working to stop potential drilling off the coast of his home country, Colombia.

In 2010 the Colombian government opened up pristine coastal ecosystems in the Caribbean Sea to oil exploration. If allowed to continue, two petroleum companies, Repsol-YPF and Ecopetrol, would be drilling for oil on the second largest reef system in the Caribbean.  

The Colombian archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina lies on the southwestern Caribbean Sea, just 125 miles off the coast of Central America. It is home to an exceptional marine ecosystem and a native island population with strong connections to the resources. 

The reef system surrounding the islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina is the second largest in the Caribbean. It covers approximately 255 km² and includes extensive sea grass beds, mangrove forests, and patchy reefs systems. In addition, a number of uninhabited cays and atolls are found in surrounding waters.


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Guest Post: Bora Bora’s Threatened Reefs

The island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. In this post, Jon reports on the state of corals in Bora Bora.

Bora Bora, Society Islands, French Polynesia – I dove last week in the beautiful lagoon that surrounds the tall island to have a first hand look at how the coral reef is doing in this South Pacific resort island. The report is not good.

Descending to 90 feet, it was immediately clear that the reef has been hammered in the past few years. I’ve come here every year for the past decade and have seen incredible change.

I spent most of the morning observing the still-growing reef system just 10 to 30 feet below the surface. Although the waters are warm and magnificently clear, invasive predators and natural disaster have both taken big tolls.

Populations of acanthaster -- also known as the crown-of-thorns starfish – mysteriously arrived in Polynesia in 2006. No one is sure exactly how they got here or where they originated, though invasive species are well known for hitching rides on cargo ships and jumping off far from home. Here in the shallows surrounding Bora Bora – as they have done to reefs on nearby Moorea, Raiatea-Tahaa, Huahine and Maupiti – the predatory starfish have devoured hundreds of acres of coral.


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A Third of Reef Fish Face Extinctions from Climate Change

A blacknosed butterflyfish. © Oceana

When you picture the impacts of climate change, what animal comes to mind? Is it a polar bear floating on a thin chunk of ice, or maybe another cold climate species losing habitat like a walrus or a penguin?

Add butterflyfish to your thoughts about climate change, because a new study predicts that they, along with one-third of all coral reef fish, are losing reef habitat and are locally threatened with extinction from climate change.

Coral reefs are threatened by two aspects of carbon dioxide emissions, ocean acidification and climate change. Corals are susceptible to sustained periods of warmer water temperatures due to climate change, which causes them to bleach when they expel algae, turning them white.


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Guest Post: Australia Floods Further Endanger Dugongs

© Patrick Louisy via cites.org

Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. His most recent documentary is "SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories" and his most recent book is OCEANS, The Threats to the Sea and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide.

The worst flooding in 130 years has turned eastern Australia into a giant wading pond, killing dozens of people, wiping out crops and livestock, destroying tens of thousands of homes and shutting down hundreds of towns and cities.

At risk at the edge of Queensland’s shores is the nearly extinct dugong – the prehistoric marine mammal that looks part sea lion, part bulldog – that feeds off the sea grass that line the coast. Unfortunately the floodwaters are inundating those feeding grounds with sediment, topsoil, rubbish and all sorts of debris on top of toxic industrial and agricultural run-off.

Environmental officials are concerned that the floods will similarly destroy wetlands, coral reefs and marine parks along Australia’s coast. Fresh water kills coral reefs, though  it remains to be seen what the long-term effects will be from this particular flood.


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New Report: It’s Getting Hot Out There

Every year the Endangered Species Coalition creates a report that focuses on 10 species facing extinction that are currently listed or being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

This year’s report, It’s Getting Hot Out There: Top Ten Places to Save for Endangered Species, focuses on critical habitats that support endangered species and are themselves threatened by climate change. Shallow water coral reefs and Arctic sea ice, two important habitats that Oceana works hard to protect, were selected as two of the top 10 most important habitats to protect.

Oceana nominated shallow water coral reefs as a habitat that is important to save from the threats caused by human-produced carbon dioxide emissions: climate change and ocean acidification.


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Belize's Reef Fails Health Class

Last week in Belize, reef scientists, conservationists and managers gathered at the Belize Reef Summit to discuss the impacts of increasing ocean temperatures and ocean acidification.

Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world. The 2010 Belize Reef Report Card, which was released at the meeting, reveals that 60% of this protected reef is in poor to critical condition with only 8% considered in good condition. This staggering statistic is unfortunately the case for many coral reefs worldwide.  

On the final day of the summit, hundreds of Belizeans and international supporters gathered on an island on the Barrier Reef off of Belize City to create a living work of art to raise awareness about the effect of climate change on the oceans. This striking photograph was a call for world leaders to take strong action against climate change and ocean acidification at COP 16, the UN Climate Talks in Cancun that begin November 29th.


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