Manhattan-Sized Pumice Raft Could Bring New Life to Great Barrier Reef
A Manhattan-size raft of pumice stones ― believed to be the result of an undersea eruption near Tonga ― is floating on the Pacific Ocean towards Australia, CNN reported Monday. The pumice carries with it marine organisms like crabs and corals that experts say could bring new life to the iconic reef, which lost about half its corals to back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.
"Based on past pumice raft events we have studied over the last 20 years, it's going to bring new healthy corals and other reef dwellers to the Great Barrier Reef," Queensland University of Technology geologist Scott Bryan told The Guardian.
Pumice is formed by lava sent up from underwater volcanoes, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Earth Observatory explained. Because it is lighter than water and full of holes, it floats.
This particular raft was first spotted by NASA satellites and sailors Aug. 9. On Aug. 15, Australian couple Michael Hoult and Larissa Brill encountered the raft while sailing to Fiji on the catamaran ROAM and posted a detailed account on Facebook, as NPR reported.
"We entered a total rock rubble slick made up of pumice stones from marble to basketball size. The waves were knocked back to almost calm and the boat was slowed to 1kt. The rubble slick went as far as we could see in the moonlight and with our spotlight," the pair wrote.
On Aug. 9, Shannon Lenz also sailed through the pumice near VaVa'u. She posted a video of the experience on YouTube.
The field is 58 square miles and is expected to reach Australia's coast in seven to 12 months.
"It's the right timing. So it will be able to pick up corals and other reef building organisms, and then bring them into the Great Barrier Reef," Bryan told The Guardian. "Each piece of pumice is a rafting vehicle. It's a home and a vehicle for marine organisms to attach and hitch a ride across the deep ocean to get to Australia."
However, there are some risks. The pumice could bring invasive species, Bryan warned CNN. It is also challenging for corals to settle in a new area. They can't just jump off of the pumice and onto new habitat like crabs can, for example. They have to wait till they are ready to reproduce and then send off larvae that will attach elsewhere. But if the pumice fills with water and sinks, the corals could start to grow and spawn from the sea floor, Bryan explained.
In the midst of the climate crisis, the Great Barrier Reef needs all the reinforcements it can get. A study published this month found that the longer, more frequent and more extreme marine heat waves brought on by climate change can kill the coral animal itself faster than the death by starvation associated with bleaching, when the coral expels the algae that gives it food and color.
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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