The secret history of nuclear testing and coral reefs


I stumbled cross these stunning satellite images of Bikini and Enewatak Atoll on the Artificial Owl blog. Top left is a 2000m crater left by Castle Bravo in 1954, the second biggest thermonuclear hydrogen bomb (weighing in at 15 megatons, 1200 times more powerful than Hiroshima). Top right is the 120m blast crater in the reef flat created by the Cactus test in 1958. The ‘dome’ construction on the island in the same image is a concrete cover built in 1977 to cover over 85,000 cubic metres of radioactive soil and debris from across the Marshall Islands. I’m staggered by the scale of these tests – whilst I remember the end of the French underground nuclear weapons testing at Muroroa and Fangataufa Atolls in the late 1990’s (after 147 tests had been conducted), I had no idea of the sheer size of the early impact craters left from earlier explosions. The good news is that recent surveys of the coral reefs surrounding Bikini Atoll  shows signs of recovery from the disaster, and the bomb crater itself now supports vibrant and diverse coral communities. However, when  compared to surveys conducted ‘pre-bomb’ in the early 1950’s, at least 28 species of coral have now become locally extinct, most likely as a result of the initial impact, radiation, increased sedimentation or altered atoll hydrology. A few highlight pictures are featured below, but go check out the original postings here and here for more information and photographs.

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The reef science corner


Dr. John Bruno’s column “Reef Science Corner” on all things coral, climate, and conservation are coming to a close on The Reef Tank blog and we’re sad to see it go!  What originally started as merely an excerpt of a modified version of an article Dr. Bruno published last year on the Earth Portal and archived here in the Coral Reefs Collection of the Encyclopedia of Earth, which became a vast, educational tool to provide awareness of two very pertinent topics that TRT holds near and dear to its heart!

Moving from an introduction to corals on coral reefs and patterns of coral loss to climate change and all of it’s repercussions (which circles back to coral loss and also focuses on other marine conservation matters), Dr. Bruno (ironically, no pun intended) shifts from one course of action to the other, first speaking specifically about the history of corals, why they have formed where they are found to this day, and where prominent patterns of coral loss reside to the concerns raised by the world’s climate change, which are affecting these corals and also causing problems like patterns of coral loss and the threat that the world’s oceans are becoming more acidic—ocean acidification.

We learned about what could potentially happen in the future to our marine life, corals, and big, beautiful ocean if we don’t start becoming aware and doing something about these repercussions, and we learned why corals are so important to our world.  Finally, we will soon learn why we should continue to remain optimistic despite all of the troubles our marine existence is experiencing today.  That last and final post will be coming up next week.

We had an exceptional marine ecologist, conservation biologist, associate professor of Marine Science, and Climate Shifts blog ( contributor on hand to provide us with all the information that goes into understanding and conserving the essence of marine communities and for that we are truly grateful! He has truly opened our eyes and we encourage you to read his work on The Reef Tank and continue to read his interesting, educated, and thought-provoking posts on Climate Shifts!

  1. Benefits/Ecosystem Services of Coral Reefs
  2. Local Threats of Reef Management
  3. Future Climate Scenarios and Coral Reef Decline
  4. Ocean Acidification
  5. Climate Change and Coral Loss
  6. Patterns of Coral Loss

—– Guest posting by Ava, The Reef Tank Blog

Raising awareness of coral reefs through the art of crochet


A fluff piece in more ways than one! The Institute For Figuring have been developing the ‘hyperbolic crochet coral reef’, a collective of crochet coral reef organisms knitted by hundreds of people across the globe. By altering the style of crochet through differing algorithms, the crochet reef has ‘evolved‘ an impressive diversity of reef associated organisms. The crochet reef has been shown at exhibitions across the US, and carries with it a serious message:

As part of the Crochet Coral Reef project the IFF has constructed a Bleached Reef, a handicrafted invocation of what happens to coral reefs under environmental stress. Most of the forms in this reef are crocheted from varying shades of white and cream, mimicking the effect of actual coral bleaching. Corals acquire their colors from microscopic zooaxanthellae that live within the polyps – these symbiotic organisms help the polyps feed. When corals get stressed by environmental toxins, or by rising water temperatures, the polyps expel the micro-organisms, leading to the washed out look known as “bleaching.” Polyps can survive for a short time in the absence of zooaxanthellae, but not over the long term. A healthy reef ecology is a co-operative one and in the long term the corals need the microorganisms to survive. Over the past decade reefs around the world have been subject to an increasing number of major bleaching events, suggesting that rising water temperatures are taking a heavy toll.

More from The Guardian and the New York Times, or click here for more photographs from Flickr.


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CO2 non-science journalism is not doing the World a favour

Remember the last time you tried to reason with someone who constantly took your words out of context in an attempt to argue an opposite futile point? If that left you smiling politely while shaking your head, you probably felt like me after reading the article “Coral Reefs and Climate Change: Unproved Assumptions” by the Idso family posted on their website “CO2 Science” at the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. The article is another sad addition to their more than 500 un-reviewed pieces – all with the obvious agenda of making their readers believe that climate change science is nothing but alarmist propaganda.

In their latest anti-science scribble (Vol 12, No 3) the Idso’s attempt to build the case that “it is premature to suggest that widespread reef collapse is a certain consequence of ongoing bleaching” and that “nature is far more resilient [to climate change] than many people give it credit for..”  All of their quotes are from a recent paper by a group of young and excellent Australian marine biologists, Maynard, Baird and Pratchett published in Coral Reefs (27:745-749). Contrary to the Idso’s claims, Maynard et al.’s paper does not question that climate change is a threat to coral reefs.  The purpose of Maynard et al.’s paper is to provoke debate around some specific assumptions of thermal thresholds and coral reef’s adaptability to climate change and the functional link between reef degradation and fisheries.

Rest assured, Maynard et al. will get the debate they have provoked within the scientific community. Critiques and responses are part of the quality control system of the scientific process and add to the foundation on which our knowledge system is built across disciplines from physics and engineering to medicine. However, by running with a few bits of quotes, stitched together in a fabricated “they say” story, the Idso’s are not doing their readers any favours. Instead, the Idso’s demonstrate two points quite clearly: (1) they have very limited understanding of the science, and (2) their agenda is to write journalism that systematically attempts to discredit the best available climate-change science.

After reading a number of their smear campaigns, the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change takes shape of a law firm defending a client’s case (wonder who they could be?) that is up against an overwhelming amount of opposing evidence. Like rookies, they fumble in their exhibits folder, hoping to win the jury over by causing confusion. The danger of their practise is that they generate disinformation about climate change in a time when the public, the media and governments are in urgent need of good information.

Here’s an analogy that adds perspective. Although most addicted smokers don’t like to hear that smoking is unhealthy, confusing them about the medical recommendations based on decades of rigorous science is a crime. With good information, people can make informed choices. Similarly, keeping the media and the public confused about the seriousness of climate change by producing demagogic journalism – has the effect of delaying critical action on an issue that needs immediate action to minimise damage in the future.

The Coral Reef Ecosystem: educational outreach

Coinciding with the end of the International Year of the Reef, Gerd Haegele, a biologist and film maker from Germany has released an educational DVD entitled “The Coral Reef Ecosystem”. In Gerd’s own words:

We are convinced that while it is important to raise awareness for these issues in industrialized countries, it is evenly important to support environmental education in developing countries where coral reefs can be found. We think a DVD can be a very effective and powerful tool in this effort. It could be produced comparable cheap (based on existing material) in many different languages, in a high number of copies and with the possibility to reach a maximum of people – and with the extra benefit of reaching even those who can’t read.

Gerd is currently seeking distributors for the movie, and aims to provide versions in local languages of developing countries for distributions by governments and NGO groups. I think this has a tremendous capacity to reach out to people and get the message across. Take a look at the youtube the trailer below, and check out Gert’s page for more information on ordering the DVD.


(disclosure: Along with Christian Wild and Paul Marshall, I was a scientific advisor on this project)

More good legislative news from the US

There is quite of bit of federal legislative action happening in the US that bodes well for marine conservation and coral reefs.   Rick MacPherson has a nice roundup at his always excellent Maleria, Bedbugs, Sea lice and Sunsets blog.

Also check out the Saipan Blog, for a great first hand account of how a small band of marine conservationist pulled off the conservation victory of the decade.  (also thanks to Rick)

Bush establishes three massive marine parks

President George Bush has made good on his commitment to protect large areas of the Pacific from fishing:

WASHINGTON — Parts of three remote and uninhabited Pacific island chains are being set aside by President George W. Bush as national monuments to protect them from oil and gas extraction and commercial fishing in what will be the largest marine conservation effort in history.

The three areas -totaling some 195,274 square miles – include the Mariana Trench and the waters and corals surrounding three uninhabited islands in the Northern Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll in American Samoa and seven islands strung along the equator in the central Pacific Ocean.

It will be the second time Bush has used the law to protect marine resources. Two years ago, the president made a huge swath of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument, barring fishing, oil and gas extraction and tourism from its waters and coral reefs. At the time, that area was the largest conservation area in the world.

Read the entire story here

Update: no, this is not a hoax!

Update on sea surface temperatures and the Great Barrier Reef

The sea surface temperature (SST) model forecast (NOAA) for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is predicting widespread bleaching, with severe scenarios predicted to affect the northern GBR from mid January 2009. Predictions for the month of December suggests that the potential for bleaching from central GBR intensifying to the north will extend into 2009.  When sea surface temperature forecasts exceed bleaching thresholds and continue long enough to cause bleaching, the outlook products display the bleaching potential during the upcoming warm season.


The NOAA Coral Reef Watch Bleaching Thermal Stress Outlook indicates that the greatest chance of bleaching during the upcoming austral summer will be in the region bounded by Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR). The figure above shows the most recent global 17-week Coral Bleaching Thermal Stress Outlook from the 09 December 2008 model run.

Actual conditions for December show temperatures around the central GBR 0.75-1.0 degrees Celsius above the MMM +1 (mean monthly maxima), and above 1 degrees Celcius to the Northern GBR and waters SE of PNG (Link). Recent SST changes have also been mapped by the Australian Bureau for Meteorology and confirm gradual warming on the GBR despite sub surface cooling in the central to eastern pacific.


Current SST tracking on Heron island on the southern GBR shows temperatures following a similar profile to that of the 2001/2002 bleaching event. The increase in SST over the next month will be critical in determining the risk of bleaching across southern GBR.

The majority of dynamic computer models are predicting neutral climate conditions to continue through the southern summer, however, some models are predicting a return to La Niña conditions which may drive monsoon, storm like conditions and generate some cooling in Queensland (Link). More updates as they come.

Introducing the giant coconut crab

Believe it or not, this isn’t a photoshopped or altered image – the crab the size of a trash can is the ‘coconut crab‘ (Birgus latro), and can be found throughout the equatorial Indo-Pacific region. These incredible 10 legged creatures grow upto a metre in leg span, with large modified claws that split coconut shells and can lift objects upto 30kg in weight. Although technically the coconut crab can be considered a coral reef associated organism (as it’s larval part of its lifecycle is oceanic) the adults can’t swim and spend their entire lives on land, upto 6km from the ocean (via

Coral Reef news round-up

“Reef guide to benefit research” (Sydney Morning Herald, 26/11/08)

‘I mean we’re not going to have reefs for much longer but we can at least have them a bit longer.” Pat Hutchings, a 40-year veteran of coral reef research, is not optimistic for the long-term future of the Great Barrier Reef but she is determined to do everything within her power to help its survival.

Hutchings has been poking around reefs since her student days, before scuba diving existed outside the armed forces. “When I went to learn in the mid to late ’60s, we had to make our own wetsuits – you couldn’t buy them,” she says. “There were a few naval divers but it wasn’t available to students. Prior to that people swam around with a box with glass on the bottom to look through.” (Read More)

“Ending the reef madness”
(The Australian, 26/11/08)

OVE Hoegh-Guldberg is blunt about the gloomy prospects for the Great Barrier Reef.

“We have no time to lose,” said the director of the University of Queensland’s Centre for Marine Studies.

“We are three decades away from having a reef with no coral and less than half the species we have today. It is crunch time.”

Speaking on the eve of the publication of a unique book, The Great Barrier Reef, the first comprehensive field guide to the world’s largest continous reef, he stressed the imperative to act. “Part of the mission for us as scientists is to pass on the urgency and excitement about these issues.” (Read More)

“Climate change, starfish hit Fiji Reefs: Study”
(ABC News, 24/11/08)

Climate change and a starfish outbreak have shrunk coral reefs near Fiji, forcing locals to change their lifestyle.

A new study, published in Global Change Biology, has found that from 2000-2006 the size of coral reefs around Fiji’s remote Lau Islands contracted by about 50 per cent.

Dr Nick Graham from James Cook University, who took part in the study, says fishing and habitat disturbance are having a big impact.

“The area was disturbed by a crown of thorns starfish outbreak in about 2000 and then, the subsequent year, there was also a coral bleaching event associated with climate change,” Mr Graham said.

“We were pretty shocked at just how severe the impact was.” (Read More)

“Oceans acidifying faster than predicted, threatening shellfish”
(Bloomberg, 25/11/08)

Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster than predicted, threatening heightened damage to coral reefs and shellfish, University of Chicago scientists said.

Researchers took more than 24,000 pH measurements over eight years and found the rate at which the ocean is becoming more acidic correlates with the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, or CO2, the university said in a statement. When CO2, which helps cause global warming, dissolves in water, it forms carbonic acid.

“The acidity increased more than 10 times faster than had been predicted by climate change models and other studies,” University of Chicago ecology and evolution professor Timothy Wooton said in the statement. “This increase will have a severe impact on marine food webs and suggests that ocean acidification may be a more urgent issue than previously thought.” (Read More)