Lab-Grown Corals May Prevent Reef Bleaching
By Johan Augustin
In a lab on Australia's east coast, scientists are concocting what they hope will be the solution to the steadily worsening problem of coral bleaching.
Few people understand the Great Barrier Reef, and the challenges it faces, better than the scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). And events of the past few years have them concerned about how well it can cope with rising water temperatures that have increased the frequency, severity and extent of coral-bleaching events.
As water temperatures rise, the coral polyps flush out the photosynthetic algae that live in their tissue and give them their color. The corals depend on the algae for their energy, and without these symbionts, the newly bare, or "bleached," reefs slowly start to die.
Historically, bleaching events have occurred far enough apart in time that reefs have been able to recover, typically within about a decade. But in March this year, the Great Barrier Reef suffered its third major bleaching event in just five years.
"Three major widespread mass bleaching events throughout the Great Barrier Reef are clear indicators that ocean warming is happening faster than expected and the severity of the warming events is pushing corals beyond levels that these reefs can sustain," says Neal Cantin, a coral reef biologist at the AIMS.
A branch of bleached coral. Jonas Gratzer / Mongabay
Water temperatures this time around didn't reach as high as during the 2016 event, but the bleaching was worse for two key reasons, Cantin says.
"The first is how soon it follows the 2016 and 2017 back-to-back bleaching events. The second concern is the footprint of heat in 2020," he says.
That "footprint" refers to the total extent of reef affected by bleaching. While the 2016 event had the most extreme levels of heat, Cantin says, it was limited mostly to the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, severely bleaching 35% of the total reef area. This time around, the entire length of the reef — a span of 2,300 kilometers (1,300 miles) — was exposed to heat stress "capable of causing bleaching." That resulted in severe levels of bleaching on an additional 25% of the reefs, Cantin says.
Bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef. Jonas Gratzer / Mongabay
But brewing in the AIMS lab are pioneering experiments aimed at finding scientific breakthroughs for a problem that experts agree is bound to get worse over time. And they've already come up with a strong candidate for the answer to the bleaching problem: corals engineered to take the heat. In a method known as assisted gene flow — similar to how food crops are crossbred to emphasize favorable traits — scientists here single out the genetic properties that make certain coral species more resistant to heat, and find ways to pass it on.
These hybrids have already "demonstrated remarkable resiliency" to high water temperatures at the juvenile life stage inside the AIMS National Sea Simulator, says reef restoration scientist Kate Quigley. Her team also works with enhancing the symbiont algae.
"By pairing these enhanced corals with enhanced symbionts, we have been able to increase their heat resistance up to 26 times," Quigley says, pointing to a recently published study with those findings. The researchers have also found that breeding these enhanced corals creates new genetic diversity in key traits associated with resisting higher water temperatures.
"The early results we have found in regards to enhancing corals' heat tolerance are encouraging," Quigley says. "I would describe these early experiments as successes."
A tank of enhanced coral at the AIMS center being tested for their warm-water tolerance. Jonas Gratzer / Mongabay
The hybrids have one parent from northern, warmer, parts of the reef and one from the central, cooler, part. The results show that some of the strains have inherited the northern corals' temperature tolerance and can survive when placed in cooler environments. That suggests that over time, as these cooler regions heat up, these corals will be able to tolerate the rising temperatures better than the native corals.
"We have learned key fundamental biology about coral reproduction and heat tolerance that will be important moving forward in further developing new, scalable coral restoration methods," Quigley says. "We are [also] finding that heat tolerance can be passed from parents to offspring in reproducible, persistent ways."
These research projects fall under the wider Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program, which Cantin calls "the biggest single effort anywhere in the world to develop options for intervening on the reef to help it adapt and cope better with climate change."
"These interventions are promising," Cantin adds, "but none are ready to deploy large-scale."
For the enhanced corals to have any meaningful effect across a reef that stretches the same distance as New York City to Miami, they will need to be deployed in massive volumes. Another experiment at the AIMS, the Larval Restoration Project, is looking into how to do this, but with naturally occurring warm-adapted corals rather than the gene-edited ones from the AIMS lab. It's the largest coral reseeding project in history, launched in 2016 and funded by the Australian government.
The idea is that during the annual mass coral spawning, which takes place every year during the November full moon, researchers harvest millions of coral eggs and sperm. They then grow them in enclosures on the reef to produce coral larvae, which are later released onto bleached and damaged sections of the reef to repopulate them.
The coral species that spawn this year will be the ones that survived the bleaching in March, and therefore those with proven better heat tolerance. The harvest this time around "will allow us to find reefs, populations and individuals that are particularly hardy and that will act as breeding stock for the production of coral offspring able to withstand high heat," Quigley says.
"The search for hardy and resilient corals continues, but we have already seen some very promising results," she adds.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she will attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that years of corruption and mismanagement warrant the dissolution of the activist organization, as CNN reported.
<div id="7eb49" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="83819841e380a7072ec66d3186c160e8"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291705003984510977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨RESPONSE to #Mauritius #OILSpill 🚨 “Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the #ClimateCrisis, as well as… https://t.co/PBLioZat6X</div> — Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeace Africa)<a href="https://twitter.com/Greenpeaceafric/statuses/1291705003984510977">1596801446.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"There is no guaranteed safe way to extract, transport and store fossil fuel products. This oil leak is not a twist of fate, but the choice of our twisted addiction to fossil fuels. We must react by accelerating our withdrawal from fossil fuels," Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager Happy Khambule said in a <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/press/11864/greenpeace-africa-response-to-mauritius-oil-spill/?utm_campaign=oil&utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=post&utm_content=single-image&utm_term=mauritius-oil-spill-reactive" target="_blank">statement Friday</a>. "Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis" target="_self">climate crisis</a>, as well as devastating oceans and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/biodiversity" target="_self">biodiversity</a> and threatening local livelihoods around some of Africa's most precious lagoons."</p>
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By Gianna-Carina Grün
While the first countries are easing their lockdowns, others are reporting more and more new cases every day. Data for the global picture shows the pandemic is far from over. DW has the latest statistics.
What's the Current Global Trend?<p>The goal for all countries is to make it to the blue part of the chart and stay there. Countries and territories in this section reported zero new cases both this week (past seven days) and the week before.</p><p>Currently, that is the case for 14 out of 209 countries and territories. </p>
How Has the Covid-19 Trend Evolved Over the Past Weeks?<p>The situation has improved slightly: 87 countries report more cases this week than last week. </p>
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