The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
By Marlene Cimons
They strengthen the corals' foundation by growing over and between gaps in coral reefs, essentially gluing sections of coral together. They provide a surface for baby corals to settle, and serve as food for marine life, including sea urchins, parrot fish and mollusks.
"They promote biodiversity and coastal protection," said Chiara Lombardi, a scientist with the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA). "Also, they play an active role in the carbon cycle."
"They become more fragile, and they bleach, and they aren't able to create a healthy habitat for biodiversity," Lombardi said. "Thus, their survival and, as a cascading effect, the survival of the associated species, is at risk."
Lombardi and her colleagues, including Federica Ragazzola, a marine biologist at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, initiated an unusual experiment recently to try to protect these algae—scientific name Ellisolandia elongata—from increasing harm.
Last month, they installed the first of several artificial coralline algae reefs—made of highly elastic rubber material—near real coralline algae reefs in the Gulf of La Spezia, in northwest Italy. The goal is that these plastic mimics—as the artificial reefs are known—which look and move like the real thing, will shelter and host the tiny creatures who typically live on the algae, and also will become scaffolds for real coralline algae to grow.
Artificial corallineGiancarlo Raiteri, Marine Environment Research Centre ENEA, La Spezia, Italy
The 60 synthetic mini reefs, each with 20 fronds, are just 10 centimeters (approx. 3.9 inches) in diameter, making them easy to place in a natural reef. Snorkelers attached the artificial reefs using epoxy resin. Hampered by bad weather, they had to make three separate runs to finish the job. "The resin needs 24 hours to become hard, so if waves occur during this period, the risk of detachment is very high," Lombardi said.
The material's properties are similar to that of the algae and non-toxic to the marine ecology. The mimics won't ultimately become plastic ocean litter. "After one year of exposure, they will be removed and brought to the laboratory" for further experiments, Lombardi said.
Researches installed artificial reefs to test their ability to attract marine micro-fauna. Giancarlo Raiteri, Marine Environment Research Centre ENEA, La Spezia, Italy
The research will "clarify the function of the coralline algae reef as a buffer for diversity, abundance, reproductive, ecological and structural characteristics of the associated fauna," Lombardi said. The results "will be important for the planning of future protection and management strategies."
This is not the first time artificial "substrates" have been used experimentally, but they have never before been made to mimic the properties of natural algae. "The majority of the studies simulating reef are mainly focused on corals," Lombardi said. She stressed the importance of preserving algae.
"They provide services that will benefit human lives," Lombardi said. "They are a resource, not only for marine life. We tend to consider protection of nature very far from human beings—but we are all connected, and it is important to understand this connection. Protecting the natural ecosystem will benefit the lives of all future generations."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
It's become a familiar story with the Trump administration: Scientists write a report that shows the administration's policies will cause environmental damage, then the administration buries the report and fires the scientists.
By Jake Johnson
Calling the global climate crisis both the greatest threat facing the U.S. and the greatest opportunity for transformative change, Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled today a comprehensive Green New Deal proposal that would transition the U.S. economy to 100 percent renewable energy and create 20 million well-paying union jobs over a decade.
The Parties to CITES agreed to list giraffes on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) today at the World Wildlife Conference or CoP18 in Geneva. Such protections will ensure that all giraffe parts trade were legally acquired and not sourced from the poached giraffes trade and will require countries to make non-detriment findings before allowing giraffe exports. The listing will also enable the collection of international trade data for giraffes that might justify greater protections at both CITES and other venues in the future.
The WHO stressed that more research is needed on the potential health risks of microplastic ingestion. luchschen / iStock / Getty Images Plus
The UN's health agency on Thursday said that microplastics contained in drinking water posed a "low" risk at their current levels.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) — in its first report on the potential health risks of microplastic ingestion — also stressed more research was needed to reassure consumers.