Online web seminars detail the future of coral reefs

As part of the International Year of the Reef, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies has uploaded a series of online seminars from the the ‘Coral Reef Futures’ symposium (held in Canberra late last year) as a way to convey the pressing issues surrounding reefs today to the general public. See the full news brief here, and check out the links to the videos below on a wide range of topics, from climate change and anthropogenic threats to sustainable management and the economy of reefs. There really are some great presentations in here from some of the worlds leading scientists on coral reefs – I strongly urge you to explore some of these seminars.


  Climate change and coral reefs
  44.8 mb 24min Ten things you need to know about Climate Change and coral reefs Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
  42.8 mb 24min Ocean acidification and coral reefs Malcolm McCulloch
  46.5 mb 27min The risk of coral bleaching to coral reef biodiversity Morgan Pratchett
  44.6 mb 26min Can reefs respond quickly enough? Line Bay
  48.4 mb 28min Rising Plague: Diseases in marine organisms and climate change Bette Willis
  47.7 mb 26min What next? Managing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park under climate change Laurence McCook
  New paradigms for ecosystem-based management of coral reefs  
  32.2 mb 18min How to kill a coral reef: Lessons from the Caribbean Bob Steneck
  46.4 mb 26min Anticipating ecological surprises: Managing reef resilience Terry Hughes
  37.6 mb 21min Blast from the Past: Messages for reef management from the fossil record John Pandolfi
  24.1 mb 14min A role for aquaculture in ecosystem restoration? Rocky de Nys
  28.6 mb 18min Coral reefs and the nascent economics of resilience John Quiggin
  Sustainable Reef Resources  
  40.7 mb 23min Marine protected areas: What they can and cannot do Geoff Jones
  33.2 mb 19min Marine protected areas: Will they provide resilience through reduced stress? Mark McCormick
  36.6 mb 21min Connectivity, climate change and the future for reef fishes Philip Munday
  41.7 mb 22min Power to the people: 25 years of reef management in the Philippines Garry Russ
  37.2 mb 22min Managing top predators: Reef shark fisheries Howard Choat
  Catchments to Reefs: Integrated planning, management and governance  
  84.6 mb 47min Australian coral reefs: Adaptive management of critical natural resources John Tanzer
  76 mb 42min Muddy Waters: Water quality and run-off Jon Brodie
  40.6 mb 22min Before and after the Asian tsunami: Lessons for coastal management Andrew Baird
  46.6 mb 26min Capacity building on our doorstep: Governance of near-shore marine systems in Melanesia Simon Foale
  33 mb 17min Conservation in a changing climate Josh Cinner

Caribbean tourism facing up to US$300m loss as coral reefs die

Jamaica Gleaner, May 2nd 2008

Coral reef degradation could result in annual losses of US$100 million to $300 million to the Caribbean tourism industry by 2015, marine scientists are predicting.

Rick MacPherson, director of conservation programmes with Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), said at a Turks and Caicos conference this week that almost two thirds of the region’s reefs were under threat. Coastal development, he said, threatens 33 per cent of the reefs, while land-based sources of pollution have harmed 35 per cent, and over-fishing more than 60 per cent.

“Caribbean reefs have suffered an 80 per cent decline in cover during the past three decades, while 80 to 90 per cent of elkhorn and staghorn coral is gone,” MacPherson said in his presentation at the 10th annual Sustainable Tourism Conference (STC-10).

Senior research associate from Oxford University’s Centre for the Environment, Dr Murray Simpson, another conference speaker, said this new reality includes a potential geographic and seasonal shift in tourism demand which will swing business away from the region. Research in 2004 showed that 70 per cent of coral reefs were at risk of collapse because of human pressures, up from 58 per cent in 2002. Underscoring that only a very tiny portion of the sea bottom is covered by coral reefs, 0.09 per cent, with a total area about the size of Arizona or the United Kingdom, the experts say they are home or nursery ground for 25 per cent of all known marine species.

MacPherson said the dive tourism industry in the Caribbean would be the hardest hit, should the quality of the dive experience be diminished. He further warned that the effects of such a loss would be felt not only by tourism but sectors such as medicine.

“Fifty per cent of current cancer medication research focuses on marine organisms found on coral reefs,” he said. “The drug AZT, which has prolonged the lives of thousands suffering from AIDS, comes through sponge species from coral reefs.”

The world’s coral reefs, he said, yield economic value of more than US$100 billion per year from food alone.

“They are the primary source of protein for over one billion people,” said the conservationist. “Coastal tourism generates 85 per cent of all tourism – a US$385 billion dollar industry.”

However, there is, he says, an economic disconnect in the annual inverstment in research, monitoring and management, which is less than US$100 million.

“Eritrean coral reefs provide hope for global marine future” – The Age

The Age, 16th April 2008

Silver bubbles pop to the surface as a snorkeler glides over a colourful coral reef, bright fish speeding to safety in its protective fronds. Experts say this small Horn of Africa nation has some of the most pristine coral reefs left anywhere worldwide, a “global hotspot” for marine diversity supporting thousands of species.

Known also as Green Island for its thick cover of mangroves, Sheikh Seid is only one of 354 largely uninhabited islands scattered along Eritrea’s southern Red Sea desert coast, many part of Eritrea’s Dahlak archipelago. The remote reefs are exciting scientists, who see in Eritrea’s waters a chance of hope amidst increasingly bleak predictions for the future of coral reefs — if sea temperatures rise as forecast due to global climate change.

Unlike the deeper, cooler waters elsewhere in the Red Sea, Eritrea’s large expanses of shallow — and therefore hotter — waters have created corals uniquely capable of coping with extremes of heat, scientists say.

“Eritrea has the most temperature tolerant corals in the world,”

Said marine expert Dr John ‘Charlie’ Veron, dubbed the “king of coral” for his discovery of more than a fifth of all coral species.

“That bodes well, for climate change is set to decimate coral reefs.”

Leading scientists warn that most reefs — vital for the massive levels of marine life that depend upon them and a crucial component of coastal economies — will be largely extinct by the end of the century unless greenhouse gas emissions are curbed.

They say many will be killed by mass “bleaching” and irreversible acidification of seawater caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide into surface waters, with at least 20 per cent of coral reefs worldwide already feared lost.

But with Eritrea’s surface water in summer an average bathwater temperature of 32.5 C (90.5 F) — reportedly peaking at a sweltering 37C (98.6 F) — corals here have evolved to survive in an environment that would kill others elsewhere in the world. (Read More)

New monitoring system for the Great Barrier Reef

Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, will today announce the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Ocean Observing System by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville (note – read here for more detailed information).

“The Observing System will apply a ‘digital skin’ of sensors, over the Great Barrier Reef, producing the highest resolution pictures ever produced,” Senator Carr said.

“It will be the most exciting development in coastal ocean observation in Australia since the launch of Earth-orbiting satellites, providing real-time data on current conditions throughout the region.

“This will help drive multi-scale ecological and physical models, making possible more accurate forecasting and improved understanding of the process sustaining the biodiversity of the Reef.

“This great collaborative project is led by AIMS on behalf of a consortium of agencies including AIMS, James Cook University, Great Barrier Reef Island Research Stations, University of Melbourne and CSIRO. The Great Barrier Reef marine tourism industry is participating in the Observing System by including ship board sensors on some of their vessels.

“The Observing System is a regional ocean observation network covering the eastern Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef. It will give researchers and managers more comprehensive and subtle understandings of the complexities of the Reef, particularly as threats from climate change loom.

“From the kilometre to the millimetre scale, diverse forms of Reef data gathered by multiple sensors will be integrated for the first time to produce detailed models reflecting real conditions on the Reef and enabling forecasts of future conditions.

“The Observing System will have an important role in future research into and management of one of Australia’s greatest natural assets, the Great Barrier Reef,” Senator Carr said.

“Dispute over climate sceptic uni grant”

The Institute for Public Affairs, Australia’s “leading free market think tank (and long known for its lack of objectivity), has decided to fund some PhD research using funds from climate skeptic and philanthropist Bryant Macfie. Whilst I’ve made my concern over the behaviour of the IPA and certain members clear in the past, I don’t see any problem with this generous gift as long as we “fiercely maintain our independence” as a university. This is one of the key litmus tests for accepting any funding – I think the Australian title “Dispute over climate sceptic uni grant” seems like a bit of a storm in a tea cup. Of course, the very fact that Mr Macafie wrote such a trite opinion piece in the Higher Education supplement this week, should raise our suspicions to a high level!

“Today we are faced with a newer religion known as environmental activism which has insinuated itself into some aspects of science. It shares some of the intolerance to new or challenging ideas with the old. Immolation at the stake is no longer fashionable but it has been replaced by pillory in the media.

The new faith makes it apostasy to question the proposition that our river systems are dying and that nothing like this has ever happened before. And it is the blackest heresy to suggest that the beatification of St Al and the Goronites may be a little premature.” (Read more)

Indeed. Jennifer Marohasy and the IPA have long been known for their advocacy for particular causes which strangely always seem to support particular sectors of industry (which provides clarity on this recent post). Here is what Source Watch has to say:

The IPA has heavily relied on funding from a small number of conservative corporations. Those funders disclosed by the IPA to journalists and media organisations include:

  • Major mining companies – BHP-Billiton and Western Mining Corporation;
  • Pesticides/Genetically modified organisms: Monsanto; and
  • A range of other companies including communications company Telstra, Clough Engineering, Visy, and News Limited;
  • Tobacco companies – Philip Morris (Nahan) and British American Tobacco [6]
  • Oil and gas companies: Caltex, Esso Australia (a subsidiary of Exxon) and Shell [] and Woodside Petroleum; and fifteen major companies in the electricity industry; (Nahan 2)
  • Forestry: Gunns, the largest logging company in Tasmania; (Nahan 3)
  • Murray Irrigation Ltd – a major irrigation company contributed $40,000.[7]

Coral reefs – a “Canary in a Coal Mine”

“In this episode of MicrobeWorld Video marine scientists Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Ph.D., chair of marine studies at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and Kiho Kim, Ph.D., director of the environmental studies program at American University, explain the important relationship between microbes and corals, and how this delicate symbiosis that sustains life on and around reefs is facing numerous threats from human interactions to global climate change. In addition, Tundi Agardy, Ph.D., founder and executive director of Sound Seas, discusses the need for public policy and community-based conservation efforts that may help stave off the degradation of these vital ocean ecosystems.According to a 2004 report issued by the World Wildlife Fund, 24% of the world’s reefs are under imminent risk of collapse through human pressures; and a further 26% are under a longer term threat of collapse. If nothing is done to protect these resources, many scientists estimate that reefs around the West Indies in the Caribbean will be gone by 2020, while the Great Barrier Reef may only last for another three decades.”

Hurricanes and storms can wipe out coral recruitment process

ANI, May 4th 2008

A new study has revealed that hurricanes and storms limit the ability of corals to “recruit” new corals into their community.

The study, supported by Earthwatch Institute in the US, was carried out in Belize, a Central American country, by Earthwatch scientist Dr. James Crabbe in 2006 and 2007 with Edwin Martinez, Earthwatch Field Director in Belize, as well as with the help of young local scientists.

Coral Reefs, which can grow to be thousands of years old, form and grow when free-swimming coral larvae in the ocean attach to rocks or other hard surfaces and begin to develop.

But, the new study has determined that intense storms can wipe out this “recruitment” process.

“Increasing evidence now shows that storms are becoming more intense due to climate change,” said Crabbe. “Storms threaten the survival of the entire reef itself,” he added.

According to Crabbe, who is doing a lecture tour related to this work throughout 2008, “If the storms don’t destroy corals outright, they render them more susceptible to disease, and that is certainly apparent on the Belize reefs.”

A team from Earthwatch measured the size of more than 520 non-branching corals in two major coral reef areas in southern Belize: the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, a world heritage site in the second largest barrier reef in the world, and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.

In addition to providing habitat for an array of marine life, non-branching massive corals robust and shaped like mounds, and sometimes called ‘brain corals’ buffer coastal zones from erosive wave energy.

Crabbe’s team determined the surface area covered by the corals and entered the growth rates of the corals into a computer model to determine when in history the coral colonies first settled.

They compared numbers of corals that started life in each year with hurricane and storm data, and as suggested by data from fringing reefs of Jamaica, the coral recruitment was much lower during storm years.

According to Crabbe, the study holds implications for marine park managers.

“They may need to assist coral recruitment and settlement by establishing coral nurseries and then placing the baby corals (larvae) in the reef at discrete locations, or by setting up artificial reef blocks to help the corals survive,” he said.