coral reef tagged posts

How Gene Editing Could Save Coral Reefs

Bleached coral

The powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 is taking the scientific world by storm. It gives researchers unprecedented power and precision in making tweaks to practically any gene in a plant or animal — and coral reefs could become its next beneficiary.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers led by Phillip Cleves at Stanford University used CRISPR to edit three genes in corals growing in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Cleves manipulated the genes very early in the coral’s life cycle — just after fertilization of egg and sperm, when the coral is just one cell. That ensured that the genetic change was as widespread in the resulting coral’s genome as possible...

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UK promises to help protect coral reefs from climate change

beautiful colours of the coral reef

The UK has vowed to help protect the world’s coral reefs from climate change and warming oceans, after it yesterday announced it has formally joined the Coral Reef Life Declaration (CRLD). By joining the CRLD, the UK said it is “committing to safeguard coral reefs and bolster scientific research into the threats they face”.

Accounting for just 0.25 per cent of the world’s marine environment yet home to 25 per cent of all marine life, coral reefs are crucial to ocean eco-systems and the sustainability of many key fisheries.

Yet, as the BBC’s hit nature documentary series Blue Planet II laid bare last year, the world’s coral reefs are under severe threat from warming oceans and climate change.

Rising sea temperatures have already prompted mass bleaching of reefs, most notably on the Great B...

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Can this ultra-thin ‘sunscreen’ save the world’s largest coral reef?

Like other coral reefs around the world, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is facing big threats from climate change — such as warmer and more acidic seawater and increased ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Last year experts said large sections of the reef were essentially dead, bleached into oblivion.

But scientists Down Under have come up with a sunscreen of sorts that they say could help protect the reef during heat waves. It’s an ultra-thin layer of calcium carbonate — the same material naturally found in coral skeletons — that could be applied to the water’s surface above the reef.

“Our aim is to give the coral time to adjust to the changed conditions of high temperature and doses of UV light so that the coral forms different chemical structures that can survive,” Dr...

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Reef depletion a huge threat to Pacific countries

A coral reef off an island in Fiji's Yasawa Group

The rapid depletion of coral reefs could prove more damaging for small islands than sea level rise, according to recently published research. Coral reefs provide an important barrier for coastlines, creating friction that slows down and dissipates the energy of waves rushing in off the ocean.

But Daniel Harris, from the University of Queensland, said that with a lot of the world’s coral under threat or dying from climate change, this barrier could be rapidly lost.

Dr Harris, who studied the waves of Tahiti and Moorea, said the lack of coral could trigger a significant increase in wave size – on top of rising sea levels – which could damage vulnerable shores.

“And so that suggested that you don’t need to wait until the end of the century to have really devastating impacts on the coastline ...

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Coral reefs ‘at make or break point’, UN environment head says

Diver in coral reef

The battle to save the world’s coral reefs is at “make or break point”, and countries that host them have a special responsibility to take a leadership role by limiting greenhouse gas emissions, plastic pollution and impacts from agriculture, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has said.

Speaking to the Guardian after the launch of International Coral Reef Initiative’s international year of the reef, Erik Solheim said he expected governments to take their efforts on reef protection in 2018 beyond symbolic designation.

“We expect governments to step up to concrete actions,” Solheim said.

To kick off ​ that effort, Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, has announced new protections ​for large portions of the Great Sea Reef, by nominating it a Ramsar si...

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Some reefs are flourishing, and you can see it in 3D

A diver uses a camera to capture images of coral

Maybe it’s not the end of the world for corals after all. That’s one of the surprising findings of a new project called the 100 Island Challenge, led by two scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

Jennifer Smith, Stuart Sandin and their team from Scripps are studying the changes taking place on 100 coral reef systems around the world. What they have found offers a surprising, and hopeful, glimpse of the current state of coral reefs.

Maybe it’s not the end of the world for corals after all.

That’s one of the surprising findings of a new project called the 100 Island Challenge, led by two scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

Jennifer Smith, Stuart Sandin and their team from Scripps are studying the changes taking place on 10...

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Sponges and Algae ‘waging War on Caribbean Coral’

corals and sponges

Joseph Pawlik, a leading sponge maven from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, is convinced that the sponges and algae of the Caribbean’s coral reef system are suffocating the coral as they steadily encroach upon increasing real estate across the reefs. Sun-soaked algae produce a surplus of sugar, which is excreted into the surrounding water column. Sponges, in turn, crave this sugar surplus, excreting excess nitrogen, which feeds the sprawling algae. In this way, Pawlik claims the two culprits collude to become an unstoppable force in what he has called “the rise of the sponges.”

Not all concur that the sponge apocalypse is near, however. Sponges do continue to play a vital role in filtering water and providing nutrients to a wide array of animals...

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Warning: Your sunscreen is killing our reefs

Two Surfers walking into the sea

Scientists have bad news for holiday-makers: the sunscreen protecting your skin as you swim or snorkel in the balmy tropical water might be killing the very coral reef and its amazing marine life that you came to enjoy. Many sunscreens contain oxybenzone, a chemical that helps filter out the ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer. Unfortunately, research indicates that it also makes corals more susceptible to the bleaching events that have damaged famed reefs around the world.

It is an example of how synthetic chemicals can have unintended consequences, strengthening the case for more rigorous risk assessment before they are used in industry. Many new substances, including oxybenzone, pass through wastewater plants unfiltered and end up in our rivers and oceans.

“This is a case for the p...

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Hidden Dangers of the Coral Reef Crisis

Great barrier reef

As residents of Florida continue to pick up the pieces after Hurricane Irma, scientists analyzing the hurricane’s stronger-than-usual storm surges are pointing the finger at the weakened state of coral barriers along the Florida coast. Had there been a more robust coral reef structure in the Caribbean and along the Florida Reef Tract, the severity of Irma’s coastal flooding and wave run-up could have been greatly diminished. According to one 2014 analysis conducted by researchers from Stanford, the US Geological Survey, and the University of Bologna, coral reefs can take 97% of the energy out of incoming waves.

None of this is surprising...

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Flickr snapshot of coral reefs’ value

Gambier Islands

Computer-led analysis of tourist snaps has estimated that coral reefs contribute $36 billion per year to the global tourist economy. Scientists used big data computing techniques to study 20 million images uploaded to image hosting website Flickr. The pictures enabled them to create a map detailing the value of coral reefs around the world.

The authors hope that their findings will encourage the tourism industry to act responsibly, and to lobby governments on how best to manage coral reefs.

Complex analysis

Researchers used a technique known as data mining – in which computers speed-read information associated with each image – to analyse photos taken by visitors to reefs.

They were able to assess details of visits to reefs and tourists’ spending nearby.

Scientists were able to diffe...

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