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Dominican Republic: Saving Coral Reefs From Tourism, Climate Change and Overfishing
An estimated 90% of the Dominican Republic's coral reefs have been destroyed, creating a knock-on effect for the entire coastal ecosystem. Local businesses and conservationists are now working to reverse this damage.
Project scope: Providing expertise, equipment and financing to hire staff for projects in 11 Caribbean countries. Since 2014, non-profit conservation group Fundacion Grupo Puntacana has revived corals at 60 sites along the Punta Cana coast in the Dominican Republic.
Project partner: German state-owned development bank KfW, the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, the International Climate Initiative (IKI), Fundacion Grupo Puntacana.
Project financing: The KfW is providing the Dominican conservation group with €800,000 between 2020 and 2022. The group will invest around €400,000 of its own money. The KfW will have provided €25 million in the 11 project countries by 2025.
Some 6.5 million holidaymakers descend upon the Dominican Republic each year to enjoy its glorious palm-lined beaches and turquoise blue waters.
Anglers' nets are now often empty, while the ebb and flow of the tide, rising sea levels and tropical storms carry away more and more of the country's sandy beaches unhindered. In turn that's threatening the very tourism, which is the number one source of income in the country.
Local non-profit Fundacion Grupo Puntacana is trying to reverse the worst effects.
Founded by investor group Grupo Puntacana, which runs a number of hotel resorts in the Dominican Republic, the foundation is restoring coral reefs and establishing protected areas in the hopes of securing the coastal landscape — and the livelihoods of coastal inhabitants.
A film by Tim Schauenberg
Reposted with permission from DW.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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