Vanishing coral reefs

Efforts to protect the Earth’s diverse plant and animal populations are failing, as evidenced by disappearing coral reefs and other ecological markers, according to a report in the journal Science.

Marine scientist John Bruno, from UNC Chapel Hill, was among a group of international researchers who contributed to the paper. The report represents the first global assessment of targets made by world leaders through the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity.

Bruno and colleagues note that the cover of live coral on reefs in the Indo-Pacific and Caribbean declined on average by almost 40 percent between 1980 and 2004.

“Coral reefs are a key canary in the coal mine for gauging the health of the oceans, one of our richest veins of biodiversity,” said Bruno, associate professor of marine sciences at UNC. “Problem is, the canary’s singing a lot more quietly now than it was several decades ago.”

Bruno had previously reported that marine protection areas can help safeguard coral reefs. On average, coral cover in protected areas remained constant, but declined on unprotected reefs.

“This shows that if we walk the talk on protecting biodiversity, it pays off,” Bruno said. “Given the time it takes to maximize these benefits, it makes sense to establish more marine protected areas.”

CPCC students win national gaming award

A techie group of students from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte has taken the grand prize in Game Design at Microsoft’s U.S. Imagine Cup competition in Washington.

This is the second year in a row that CPCC’s Simulation and Game Development students have won national gaming honors at Imagine Cup. This year they topped runners-up Yale and the University of Houston.

Imagine Cup participants use technology to address issues in education, health care and environmental sustainability. Projects included a mobile safety-alert system for women and a social-networking application connecting entrepreneurs to investors in micro-banking.

Farhad Javidi chairs CPCC’s Simulation and Game Development division. Javidi’s team – Will Isenhour, Nic Colley, Jonathan Mead and Danny Helms – won its division with a game called “Sixth,” a reference to the sixth of the world’s people who live in poverty. The game simulates challenges faced by poor people, including a child in India who has to overcome difficulties to bring water back to his family.

Film director James Cameron spoke to contest participants and met the CPCC team. Cameron said the team’s game “triggers a compassionate response and a call for action.” Staff reports

Sea worm makes underwater glue

Along one wall of bioengineer Russell Stewart’s laboratory at the University of Utah sits a saltwater tank containing a strange object: a rock-hard lump the size of a soccer ball, riddled with hundreds of small holes.

It came from intertidal waters of the California coast, and it’s home to a colony of Phragmatopoma californica, otherwise known as the sandcastle worm.

P. californica is a master mason, fashioning its shelter from grains of sand and tiny bits of scavenged shell. It uses a specialized organ on its head to produce a glue that it places on the existing structure. Then it wiggles a bit of sand into place.

What is most remarkable – and the reason these worms are in Stewart’s lab – is that it does all this underwater.

“Man-made adhesives are very impressive,” Stewart said. “…But this animal has been gluing things together underwater for several hundred million years, which we still can’t do.”

Stewart is one of a handful of researchers around the country who are developing adhesives that work in wet conditions. The biggest goal is to make glues for use in the ultimate wet environment: the human body. New York Times