Scientists Discover Why Coral Reefs Are Turning White, Informing Restoration Possibilities
But scientists at the University of Hawaii and Michigan State University are looking for answers beyond just "why." They are seeking solutions that could help coral reefs endure these threats now and into the future.
Between 2014 to 2017, a global ocean heatwave bleached coral reefs around the world. During this period, about 75 percent of the planet's tropical coral reefs experienced this bleaching, BBC reported. Places like Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii were also hit especially hard, bleaching nearly half of its corals, Michigan State University reported.
"It was kind of horrifying," Crawford Drury, a coral biologist who researches at the UH Manoa's Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology, or HIMB, according to MSU. "It's disheartening to watch, but I try to think of it as an opportunity," Drury added.
Coral reefs thrive in a symbiotic relationship with algae, according to NOAA. While the algae grow inside the corals, using the coral tissue as shelter, the algae also provide the corals with food, turning them into their familiar, vibrant colors. But when corals become stressed from high temperatures, they will often discard their algae, turning them white, according to NOAA. While bleaching does not necessarily kill the corals, it does make them vulnerable to disease and death, according to MSU.
But, among the damaged corals in Kaneohe Bay, following the heatwave, some still bore their "healthy golden hue," according to MSU.
Looking to answer why some corals were vulnerable to a warmer ocean while others were not, the team of scientists analyzed the biochemicals of corals. Their findings, published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, could help inform future coral reef restoration.
The scientists found that two different communities of algae lived within the corals. Inside the algae cells were compounds known as lipids. Corals with saturated lipids resisted bleaching, while corals with unsaturated lipids were more vulnerable, MSU reported.
"This is not unlike the difference between oil and margarine, the latter having more saturated fat, making it solid at room temperature," Robert Quinn, an assistant professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, told MSU.
Coral reefs are important for more than just marine life and ocean biodiversity. According to NOAA's Office for Coastal Management, 500 million people worldwide depend on reefs for food and livelihoods. Reefs also protect against flood damage, saving communities nearly $94 million each year.
"Coral reefs are biodiversity reservoirs and significant sources of food, income, and pharmaceuticals. We have a small window of opportunity remaining to apply science to rescue the world's degrading reefs," Karine Kleinhaus, a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, told BBC in April.
In one rare and unique case, coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea have resisted bleaching, despite warmer ocean temperatures, BBC reported.
"Unless we uncover what exactly happens biologically in the corals of the Gulf of Aqaba that allows them to withstand warming temperatures, we don't know how or if this knowledge can be applied elsewhere," Kleinhaus added.
Now with more answers regarding their biological processes, the University of Hawaii and Michigan State University scientists' findings could help inform future projects to protect coral reefs.
"This work provides insight into the biochemical mechanisms of coral bleaching and presents a valuable new tool for resilience-based reef restoration," the authors of the study wrote.
Their research can also help conservationists choose more climate-resilient species to seed when restoring reefs, MSU reported. "We can use natural resilience to better understand, support and manage coral reefs under climate change," Drury told MSU. "Hopefully, we're just getting started."
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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