Mild summer coral bleaching at Heron Island

One of my students (Chris Doropoulos) noticed the onset of coral bleaching up at Heron Island. Here is Chris’s report (and photographs attached):

We arrived to Heron Island on the 5th of February and did a quick snorkel from the jetty to the shipwreck that afternoon. We noticed that lots of the Acropora aspera colonies (branching corals, see photographs above) were bleached, and that it appeared recent. What was most striking is that, in general, only the east facing sides of the colony branches were bleached and the west facing sides of branches were still intact. The bleaching had only affected the shallowest colonies, and in general it was only the A. aspera. On returning to the area 5 days later, the bleaching appeared to have become more severe and affected a much larger area of the A. aspera beds. Most of the colonies were bleached, some uniformly, but some still only on the east facing side. We didn’t notice any other bleaching on the reef flat or reef slope around the island, so at the moment the bleaching seems very localised to the harbour area.

The new SkepticalScience iphone app: perfect for rebutting cranky misinformed deniers like Gene Shinn

There is a great (free!) new iphone app for John Cook’s awesome SkepticalScience website.  It lists common denier canards and explains why they are rubbish (in a polite, rationale way).  It is the perfect app for those of you with denier relatives (check), friends (check), facebook aquatances (check) and grouchy-retired-exoilindustrygeologist-colleagues (check) who think a few cold days in Key West negate a century of global warming, e.g., link.

John is getting lots of press (e.g, here and here) for this leap forward in this enjoyable rationale debate of minor importance, so why not join the bandwagon.  I can’t wait to see the “skeptic” apps!  Any predictions what they will look like?

Shout down the sceptics

Published in the Sunday Morning Herald, Feb 17, 2010

Climate change sceptics are really making my unborn grandchildren angry. Just when we thought the science was in and we could start focusing on action to avoid the massive environmental, social and economic costs of global warming, along come the climate-science deniers to muddy the waters.

Now we are arguing over a few emails and a typo in the latest Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change report.

If there were a typo in The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, would that nullify the theory of evolution? If an email were stolen from one lung cancer specialist that showed frustration with tobacco lobbyists, would this prove that all cancer specialists around the world were in a conspiracy to destroy cigarette companies? If a tennis ball is filmed only after it bounces and is moving upwards, does this disprove the law of gravity?

Obviously the answer is no, no and no. Yet the deniers of climate science desperately hang on to a few drops of so-called proof to claim the entire ocean of evidence is flawed.

These minor errors do not invalidate the work of scientists from around the world who are screaming from their combined rooftop that human activity is warming the planet. Hundreds of scientists from more than

100 countries whose work is peer-reviewed by hundreds more are apparently all in a global conspiracy to make us pay more for electricity. The insects they study that are migrating earlier or travelling higher up mountains due to enhanced global warming must be in on the conspiracy, too.

Do people who question climate change science do so in other areas of their lives? Do they refuse a doctor’s advice when seriously ill? Do they question aeronautical engineers before they board a plane? Or do they mistrust science only when it points to global catastrophe?

The denial machine is well oiled and is loudly supported by old-energy lobbyists, conspiracy theorists, opportunistic politicians, liars and self-important opinion writers. These writers place themselves above collected scientific wisdom using simplistic unsubstantiated popular chants.

We must refocus on the voices of the overwhelming majority of scientists who warn us that we are fast approaching various environmental tipping points. The science of climate change and the duty it drops in our laps will not go away because of a typo. We must act, otherwise in 2060 there will be hordes of irate youngsters breaking down the doors of nursing homes demanding to know why we ignored the science and trashed the planet.

David Whitcombe

And you can add do David’s list of questions: Does the fact that two Aussie journalists have been nabbed by Media Watch (here and here) making up quotes, fudging the science and misleading the public, i.e., exagerating to make a point, does this prove that all “skeptic” accusations are false?  By the denier logic, the answer is  yes.

Now, take a look at the first several responses, including #6 from our old friend Mark H:

“entire ocean of evidence” Do you mean all the manipulated data from East Anglia University?

Climate change has always been and always will be. Look at an article in the Sunday Herald Sun late Nov 2009. It told us how crocodile skeletons (from 6 different species) had been found in the Sahara. This proves that the Sahara was once some sort of tropical wetland because crocodiles don’t live in deserts. Climate changed and caused a desert to form many many thousands of years before human activity could possibly have been the culprit. You claim that many scientists agree with human induced climate change, but I suspect it has more to do with their attempts at getting Government grants, which they have been very successful.

Laurie | Melbourne – February 17, 2010, 7:01AM

Dave – February 17, 2010, 7:02AM

There is nothing wrong with healthy scepticism. I’m more than happy to be brought around to accept climate change – IF – it can be proven. It hasn’t & I remain sceptical. Especially when there is so much money to be made & so much opportunity for us to be taxed.

Wayne | Canberra – February 17, 2010, 7:18AM

Another thought; I wonder if Krudd could have formed the new world order and prevented the last ice age?

Dave – February 17, 2010, 7:19AM

Excellent article- all this skepticism now seems reminiscant of the tobacco lobby years ago, as they were clutching onto minor studies showing smoking was safe. Tell that to all the people who used that to keep smoking, and then ended up with cancer.

As for irate youngsters breaking down the doors of nursing homes, there’ll be no need. We simply won’t pay your pensions since dealing with the environmental challenges of unabated climate change will make supporting old people unaffordable

John – February 17, 2010, 7:19AM

David, Me thinks you have been limiting your reading to ABC and fairfax. Try reading the Australian occasionally. For a run down of ABC climate change errors see:

MarcH – February 17, 2010, 7:15AM

So evolution which has been around for over 100 years is just a theory but man made global warming requiring massive unilateral economic restructuring has achieved fact status which no one may question in a little over a decade?

The problem is that politics is about 20 years ahead of the science on climate change. There has been a massive overreach by the green movement which has cost the movement its credibility and caused genuine, fixable environmental problems to be ignored.

Dave | Sydney – February 17, 2010, 7:14AM

So I guess the alarmists’ fascist approach is back in full swing. Anyone disagreeing with these Chicken Littles must be “shouted down”.

How does “hundreds of scientists” represent an “overwhelming majority”, especially in light of the 31,000 signatories of the Oregon Petition?

“Do they refuse a doctor’s advice when seriously ill?” If the treatment is not backed up by a single scientific study, then yes. Science has as much evidence of our ability to stop climate change as it does of our ability to reverse the rotation of the planet. You can’t assume that the treatment is simply to reverse the process of the ailment.

When you’re talking “heads in the sand”, you can’t go much further than this author. He’s clearly oblivious as to the (still emerging) mountain of evidence of scientific fraud. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to know.

Funny how in the same sentence he accuses others of being conspiracy theorists he talks about our “well-oiled denial machine”.

Prince Planet | nsw – February 17, 2010, 7:30AM

Take a valium, Dave. Then go look at the meteorological records of countries all over the world. Hot weather, Cold weather, insect migrations etc, etc are all event recorded in past records. These events have come and gone. Oceans turned into deserts, including central Australia, just look at the fossils of marine creatures discovered out there, long before the “man-made industrial revolution”. Take control of your hysteria and read objectively with an open mind. Of course Homo-sapiens have changed the environment, but it has changed by itself many times before without so much of our influence.


More on ESA listing for corals

There is an interesting discussion on the coallist server about the new petition to list 82 more corals that illuminates the variety of perspectives on this topic:

On February 10, 2010, NOAA Fisheries Service published a Federal

Register Notice finding the agency will evaluate the status of 82

species of coral under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), in response to

a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity. Of the 82 species

that will be reviewed, seven species occur in U.S. Caribbean waters and,

according to the petition, 75 occur in U.S. Pacific waters. NOAA?s

Fisheries Service is soliciting information on the species? historical

and current distribution and abundance, the short- and long-term effects

of climate change on their condition and the effects of other potential

threats such as land-based sources of pollution, and existing

conversation efforts. Please see the FR notice for further information


Jennifer Ann Moore

Acropora Coordinator

Natural Resource Specialist

NOAA Fisheries Service

Protected Resources Division

263 13th Ave. S.

St. Petersburg, FL  33701

(727)824-5312 phone

(727)824-5309 fax

From: Sarah Heberling <>

Subject: [Coral-List] Endangered species status will be considered for

82            corals


Message-ID: <>

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed

Thank you, Andrea!

For additional information on what NMFS is doing for the ESA-listed

species of /Acropora palmata/ and /A. cervicornis/ in the U.S. and

Caribbean, I encourage you to visit our website:  There you will find FAQs

about the listing process and about the designation of critical habitat

under the ESA (including answers to “What does this mean to me??”).

Plus, there is a handy worksheet for figuring out which permits you

might need when conducting research on these two listed species.  It’s

all not as scary as some would have you think.

Additionally, please visit for more information

on the petition to list 82 corals, on NMFS’ 90-day response to the

petition, and on NMFS’ request for more information to support status

reviews for these species.  Please consider providing your comments,

data, and information to assist us with the massive task of thoroughly

assessing the status of each the 82 candidate coral species!!



Sarah E. Heberling

NOAA Fisheries Service

Phone: (727) 824-5312

Fax: (727) 824-5309



“What good is a used up world; and how could it be worth having?”

Coral-Listers, Be careful what you wish for and beware of, “The Law

of unintended consequences.”  At stake is the listing of 82 species

of corals which is the first step toward making all Atlantic  coral

reefs off limits to divers and researchers (except for an elite few).

Imagine the increased paperwork ect., that will be required to obtain

a permit to study any of these corals or a reef where they live. If

passed the next step will  be designation of critical habitats to

protect these species—-from what? and how? Every scuba diver

bubbles Co2 into the water, (exhaled breath contains up to 40,000 ppm

Co2).Down the road we may have to stop scuba diving or mandate the

use of rebreathers. The Co2 battle is being fought vigorously on many

other fronts  so why use corals as pawns to create a new tangle of

government regulations and bureaucrats? What is really behind this?

Job creation? More coral police? The only winners I see will be the

lawyers! I think that this time The Center for Biodiversity has gone

over the top and is more obstructionist than I ever thought they

would be. I wonder who supports them? How do they get their funding?

Now that’s something to ponder! Lets be reasonable!  This action is

not going to save  corals. Just look to the geologic record. The

grandest reefs the world has ever known grew during the Cretaceous

when Co2 levels were more than 7 times present levels. To and Earth

scientist this action appears to be just one more issue for people to

disagree on in a country already so politically divided on most any

subject one can think of. No this is not Glen Beck speaking…

Gene Shinn


There is plenty to question and debate about the application of the ESA

in the way it is being used by the Center for Biodiversity, but this

unwashed, inflammatory drivel is not civil discourse and has no place on


John Ogden


Let me tell you a little story.  You will recall the Conch Coalition, the

so-called “grass-roots” group that formed in the Florida Keys to oppose

the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in the early to mid-1990’s.  I

said so-called and put “grass-roots” in parenthesis because some of their

organizers came from out of town and a local investigative reporter found

funding links back to the wise-use movement.

But to get to my point, Conch Coalition representatives began a

door-to-door campaign, especially in the Upper Keys telling people such

things as, “if you loose the roof on your house in a hurricane, the

Sanctuary will not let you rebuild!”. Or, a real frightening bit of

mis-leading, malicious fabrication was “if your car leaks oil on your

driveway, NOAA will fine you $100 thousand dollars.”  They were full of

lies and mis-information and single income or retired individuals believed

them at first.

However, when these malicious and false claims did not happen, even

multiple hurricane strikes later…. the credibility of the Conch

Coalition was affected.  Those that came from the outside are gone and

support for the Sanctuary has swung to the positive side.

Now … I recall you made similar claims about the listing of Acropora

species …. Yet your falsely based predictions haven’t taken place.

I share this story about how the Conch Coalition tarnished and lost their

credibility in the Keys as a long time friend.

Billy Causey

Hi all,

I’d like to respond to some of the questions Gene raised about CBD’s coral

petition and the effects of listing corals under the Endangered Species Act

(ESA). First, the purpose of the listing petition is pretty straightforward:

to protect corals from a range of threats, including not just climate change

and acidification, but degraded water quality, destruction by anchors, trawl

gear, and unsustainable development. Please bear in mind that listing a

species and designating critical habitat for it does not automatically block

any activity.  Acropora palmata and A. cervicornis are already listed under

the ESA and critical habitat has been designated for both species along the

south Fla. coast and Keys.  Diving, fishing, research, and pretty much every

other activity that was permitted before continues now.  The main difference

is that the federal government must now ensure that any activity it

authorizes or funds in that area (e.g., dredging) will not jeopardize the

survival and recovery of those species or destroy their critical habitat.

That analysis rarely results in activities being wholly curtailed.  Most

often they are modified to minimize impacts and allowed to continue.

As one who works with this law day in and day out, I can assure you that

listing corals is not going to lead to requiring rebreathers or excluding

divers from coral habitat.  What we do hope it will accomplish with divers

is an increased awareness that these corals are fragile, incredibly

important habitat-builders that need to be treated with care.  I’ve seen

enough of my fellow divers grabbing and kicking coral to believe that

message has still not reached nearly enough recreational divers.

We also hope to raise awareness regarding the threat of climate change and

ocean acidification to coral reefs.  As many on this list have noted, public

awareness is crucial to protecting corals.  There has been much discussion

on the list about how to bring the “save the corals” message to the public.

This is one more way to do that.

As for research, it is true that researchers will need to get one more

permit.  For researchers dedicated to understanding and conserving corals,

I’d hope this wouldn’t be seen as a reason to oppose protecting them under a

law designed to ensure not only their survival, but their recovery.

Moreover, ESA listing can bring with it increased attention and funding for

scientific research on the listed species.

I hope this information is helpful.  Please feel free to contact us if you

have any questions about the petition, how the process works, etc.  Thank

you all for the great work you do to protect corals.


Andrea A. Treece

Senior Attorney, Oceans Program

Center for Biological Diversity

351 California Street, Suite 600

San Francisco, CA 94104

ph: 415-436-9682 x306      fax:  415-436-9683

I’d like to support Andrea in her comments about the value and supposed obstacles created by an ESA list of coral. First, speaking as a 35-year veteran of the recreational diving industry and editor of the oldest national scuba publication in America, we have no fear that anyone will require us to use rebreathers, or impose any other onerous regulations due to the listing. In fact, the listing of staghorn and elkhorn has, as she indicates, raised the awareness among divers to the plight of these species as well as coral reef in general. And I have no doubt that listing more species will do the same.

Now, putting on my hat as a marine science professor, we have the privilege here at FKCC of working with the Coral Restoration Foundation in raising and transplanting cervicornis in the Florida Keys; and we not found any requirements imposed on us that are either onerous or unreasonable.


Alex. F. Brylske, Ph.D.

Professor, Marine Science & Technology

Florida Keys Community College

5901 College Rd.

Key West, FL 33040

office: 305-809-3148

cell: 954-701-1966

Fellow coral listers,

I prefer to silently read the posts by others, but every now and then, I

am forced to comment.  Recent posts on the topic of listing of more corals

under the US Endangered Species Act by Gene Shinn, John Ogden and others

show the diversity of opinion out there, even among the scientifically

informed.  Rather than comment on whether listing is a useful action to

take, let me take a different tack. (I remain curious concerning the

penchant within the US for listing organisms that live largely or entirely

outside US jurisdiction ? such as the red kangaroo ? but now is not the

time and place for that discussion.)  There is such a thing as fiddling

while Rome burns.  We are generally quite good at that, and I fear we are

going to go on fiddling until the opportunity to actually take action will

have passed us by.  Corals, and many other species, are at risk of

extinction because too many of us insist on demanding too much from an

environment that cannot provide for these wants.  I happen to think we

need these other species more than we realize, and that it is in our own

self-interest to change our attitudes and behavior now.  We do not need

the US to list corals as endangered to know that management of most reef

areas around the world is woefully inadequate, nor to know what steps need

to be taken to improve that management ? reduce overfishing, cut

pollution, eliminate inappropriate coastal development, and, yes, cut CO2

emissions and reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations in order to

stabilize/restore ocean surface waters pH.  In short, we need to start

managing our impacts on reefs, instead of continuing to pretend to manage

them.  That means making actual, on-the-ground changes, not discussing

changes, legislating changes, or bemoaning the lack of changes.  We could

also start thinking seriously about the carrying capacity of this planet

for Homo sapiens, rather than complacently noting that our population is

trending towards 9.2 billion by mid century.  What can one scientist do?

We each can start by doing our best to articulate the problem as clearly

as possible in every forum open to us ? we have a very big problem and

most people are quite unaware of how big it is.  When did you last

buttonhole a politician, get an article into a newspaper, talk to a school

group, post on a web-site, get yourself onto TV to talk about environment,

or, especially, work to improve environmental management where you live?

When did  you last talk quietly to your family or neighbors about this

issue?  When did you set an example?  Spaceship Earth is not being managed

sustainably, and its coral canaries are screaming as loudly as they can.

Peter Sale

Peter F. Sale

Assistant Director

United Nations University

Institute for Water, Environment and Health


University Professor Emeritus

University of Windsor

NOAA report indicates January 2010 one of the warmest on record

A new NOAA preliminary report (State of the Climate Global Analysis January 2010) indicates January 2010 was one of the warmest on record.  Surely, this will convince AGW deniers they were wrong to argue the mid-Atlanctic snowstorms are evidence global warming has ended.  Hat tip to Joe Romm, see his coverage here.

Speaking of the DC snowstorms, I love this quote by Dana Milbank “As a scientific proposition, claiming that heavy snow in the mid-Atlantic debunks global warming theory is about as valid as claiming that the existence of John Edwards debunks the theory of evolution.”

From the NOAA report

Global Highlights

  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for January 2010 was 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F). This is the fourth warmest January on record.
  • The global land surface temperature for January 2010 was 0.83°C (1.49°F) above the 20th century average of 2.8°C (37.0°F)—the twelfth warmest January on record. Land areas in the Southern Hemisphere were the warmest on record for January. In the Northern Hemisphere, which has much more land, comparatively, land surface temperatures were 18thwarmest on record.
  • The worldwide ocean surface temperature for January 2010 was the second warmest—behind 1998—on record for January, 0.52°C (0.94°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.5°F). This can be partially attributed to the persistence of El Niño across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC), El Niño is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2010.
  • It really doesn’t look like this has been a cold winter globally or that the earth is cooling does it:

    January Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies in degrees Celsius

    The January 2010 average temperature for the Southern Hemisphere as a whole (land and ocean combined) was 0.58°C (1.04°F) above the 20th century average—the second warmest January on record, behind 1998. However, the Southern Hemisphere land temperature was the warmest on record, surpassing the previous record set in 2006 by 0.02°C (0.04°F).

    The global ocean temperature represented the second warmest January on record, with an anomaly of 0.52°C (0.94°F) above the 20th century average—the second warmest January, behind 1998.

    Perhaps these are the facts Andrew Bolt was alluding to here?

    Measured temperatures for the lower troposphere are the highest ever recorded (NOAA; “Global averages from radiosonde data are available from 1958 to present, while satellite measurements date back to 1979”)

    Although most of the Arctic Ocean experienced cooler-than-average temperatures, the Arctic sea ice extent remained below average.According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the January 2010 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent—which is measured from passive microwave instruments onboard NOAA satellites—was 13.8 million square kilometers (7.2 percent or 1.1 million square kilometers below the 1979–2000 average), resulting in the fourth lowest January sea ice extent since records began in 1979.

    Diversity of Corals, Algae in Warm Indian Ocean Suggests Resilience to Future Global Warming

    Todd LaJeunesse from Penn State has an interesting new paper out about zooxanthellae diversity and coral acclimation to ocean warming.  Also see the great video of Todd talking about this work here.

    Penn State researchers and their international collaborators have discovered a diversity of corals harboring unusual species of symbiotic algae in the warm waters of the Andaman Sea in the northeastern Indian Ocean.  “The existence of so many novel coral symbioses thriving in a place that is too warm for most corals gives us hope that coral reefs and the ecosystems they support may persist — at least in some places — in the face of global warming,” said the team’s leader, Penn State Assistant Professor of Biology Todd LaJeunesse.  According to LaJeunesse, the comprehensiveness of the team’s survey, which also included analysis of the corals and symbiotic algae living in the cooler western Indian Ocean and Great Barrier Reef area of Australia, is unparalleled by any other study. The team’s findings will be published during the week ending 20 February 2010 in an early online issue of the Journal of Biogeography.

    Corals are colonies of tiny animals that derive nutrients and energy from golden-brown, photosynthetic algae that live inside the corals’ cells.  “This symbiotic relationship is sensitive to changes in the environment,” said LaJeunesse.  “For example, because the algae are photosynthetic, they are very sensitive to changes in light.  They are also sensitive to temperature,” he said.  “An increase in sea-surface temperature of just a few degrees Fahrenheit for a period of several months can cause many of the coral-algal symbioses to break down and the algae to be expelled.  This process is known as bleaching because it leaves behind the clear animal tissue and the white skeleton underneath.  When bleaching is severe, due to either high temperatures or low light availability, corals soon die without their symbiotic partners.”

    LaJeunesse said that continued global warming eventually may cause the demise of coral-reef ecosystems, which would have major impacts on the tourism and food-fisheries industries.  According to team member Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, coral-dominated reefs may become scarce within the next 30 to 50 years, given the increase in the number of bleaching events that recently have taken place.


    “The fact that the Andaman Sea and other regions around Southeast Asia are home to such a high diversity of corals is surprising because the water there is so warm and sometimes murky,” said LaJeunesse.  “The inshore locations we surveyed are not the sort of places where you would expect to see thriving coral communities.  Not only is the water warm and murky, but the tidal flux is so great that many of the corals can spend hours out of water, exposed to the harsh sun and dry air.”

    The team identified the species of algae that associate with corals, as well as giant clams, sea anemones, zoanthids, and other reef-dwelling animals that form close symbiotic relationships with the single-celled algae that are referred to as zooxanthellae.  In the Andaman Sea, the scientists found a variety of seemingly thermally tolerant algae species, with one species being particularly abundant.  Called Symbiodinium trenchi, the species is a generalist organism — one that is able to associate with a variety of hosts. Corals harboring this symbiont appear to be tolerant of high heat. LaJeunesse found the same species in the Caribbean Ocean during a bleaching event that took place in 2005.  “Symbiodinium trenchi, which normally occurs in very low numbers in the Caribbean, was able to take advantage of the warming event and become more prolific because of its apparent tolerance of high temperatures,” he said. “The species appears to have saved certain colonies of coral from the damaging effects of unusually warm water.”


    In contrast, the scientists found very few thermally tolerant algae species in the cooler western Indian Ocean and Great Barrier Reef area.  According to LaJeunesse, the Andaman Sea is on average three or four degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the western Indian Ocean and the Great Barrier Reef area.  “Symbiodinium trenchi and other related symbiont species can tolerate this warm water, but if global warming causes the water to warm further, even these species might not be able to deal with it,” he said.  “However, if the water warms by three or four degrees Fahrenheit in the cooler western Indian Ocean or Great Barrier Reef area, Symbiodinium trenchi easily could persist.  The problem is that Symbiodinium trenchi occurs in very low numbers in these cooler areas and, so far, has not proliferated during bleaching events as it has in the Caribbean.”

    LaJeunesse said that some scientists have suggested that reefs suffering from high water temperatures might be “seeded” with the thermally tolerant Symbiodinium trenchi; however, he is not sure the approach will work.  “Symbiodinium trenchi forms symbiotic associations only with corals and other animals that acquire their symbionts from the environment,” he said.  “Other species of coral are born with algae already in their cells.  If Symbiodinium trenchi were introduced into a new environment, it may be able to ‘rescue’ some species that acquire their symbionts from the environment, but it would not be able to ‘rescue’ species that are born with algae already in their cells because these species have evolved special relationships with their algae.”

    Not only is LaJeunesse concerned that “seeding” reefs with algae, like Symbiodinium trenchi, will fail to “rescue” animals that are born with algae already in their cells, but he also is concerned about possible negative repercussions.  “You never know what the effects might be of introducing an organism into an ecosystem in which it is not well established,” he said.

    LaJeunesse explained that the diversity of species the team found in the Andaman Sea likely is the result of the dramatic changes in the ocean environment that the region has experienced since the beginning of the Pleistocene Epoch.  Typically, during times of environmental change, generalist species of algae that are able to associate with a variety of animal hosts are more successful than specialist species of algae that can associate only with particular hosts because the generalists can spread to many hosts, thus forming new combinations that might be better suited to the new environment.  Once the environmental change has stabilized, some of the generalist species form special associations with new hosts and, as a result, become new specialist species.

    In the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand, not only is the water warm and murky, but the tidal flux is so great that many of the corals can spend hours out of water, exposed to the harsh sun and dry air.

    LaJeunesse said that one of the team’s most important findings is that coral-algal symbioses are much more ecologically and evolutionarily responsive to environmental changes than previously was believed.  “The responsiveness of these symbioses to historical climate change gives us hope that some species may survive in some places in the face of future warming,” he said.  “Yet, even though these symbiotic relationships have persisted through historical climate changes, they never have experienced the rapid rate of warming that we are seeing today.  So, while we shouldn’t underestimate life and its ability to respond to change, we also should do everything in our power not to test its resilience.”

    This research was funded by the World Bank, Penn State University, Florida International University, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

    A Changing Environment where the Sun Don’t Shine

    Dr. John Bruno introduced me to NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch website last year.  It’s a online tool for tracking global sea surface temperature data in real-time. But, really, all you need is an affinity for color scales to find it useful. Reddish areas on the map mean corals beware; temperatures are unusually high. For sleep deprived master’s students, pretty colors are easier on the eyes that plotted regressions.

    But what about temperatures, say, a quarter mile beneath the surface?  There are no user-friendly websites or pretty maps for tracking anomalous temperatures in deeper waters. Little light reaches to this depth and it is nearly impossible for satellites to gather data. Perhaps that’s why awareness of climate-induced changes in the mesopelagic environment is only recently gaining ground.

    Last week, NPR’s Science Friday hosted Dr. William Gilly of Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Lab. His lab is investigating the recent population increase and geographic spread of the deep-water  Humbolt Squid up the California coast. This tropical jumbo-sized squid has even been spotted in Sitka, Alaska!

    Why are there more and why are they moving? One theory suggests that their mesopelagic habitat is changing, and the squid are following new temperature and oxygen gradients. New science does conclude that oxygen levels off California are changing at about 1000m depth. But very little is known about how mesopelagic creatures are responding

    The full NPR interview is worth a listen for those of you interested in new indicators of mesopelagic environmental change. The deep deserves attention, too.

    Plastics and the Public Periphery

    Laysan Albatross & Plastic Debris

    My first blog feature on Climate Shifts was about marine debris. I wanted to get the word out there after recent Pacific travels. The usual litmus test encouraged me: does my family know about this issue? They didn’t. So, the video I had made for an academic class entered the YouTube world for Mom and blog-followers alike.

    My first blog as an official contributor is about public awareness. Both Good Morning America and Stephen Colbert have spotlighted this issue in the past few months. But there really has been no mass response to the overwhelmingly apparent problem. Today,  CNN presents a long form video piece on pacific “plastic soup” featuring Capt. Charles Moore whom some accredit with discovering – what the media has dubbed – the “garbage patch.” The man has salt in his hair but not too many citations to his name. And, surprise: he didn’t discover it. Biologists at Midway Atoll have been quantifying the peculiarly abundant presence of plastic in the north Pacific since the late 1960s.

    As an aspiring scientist myself, I’m struck by the lack of scientific faces in these media pieces.  The anthropogenic blame here is undeniable and disturbing. While many scientists are going on the front lines defending climate change, other phenomena of global environmental change are being left in the periphery.

    The task asked of scientists is different than that of defending climate change. Instead of sound science and strong arguments, the issue needs eloquence and persistence in communicating the growing body of science assessing the ecological effects of marine debris. Fortunately, the three letters “PhD” still command a level of respect and recognition from mass audiences. It may be this recognition that can draw the “garbage patch” problem fully out from the periphery of the public consciousness.