MarineBio Newsletter 5
Featured Species: Coral Reef Dwellers
Issues in Marine Conservation: CORAL REEFS STILL IN JEOPARDY
Current Research: Interview with an Aquanaut
The Sea Below ~ Expedition :: South Florida
MarineBio is pleased to bring you the 5th edition of our newsletter! We welcome your feedback on its content and would love to hear what you're interested in reading! Send your comments to: Joni@marinebio.org.
To find out what's new at MarineBio check our What's New? page.
Latest 10 species on MarineBio.org:
» Blacktip shark » Bronze Whaler shark » Caribbean reef shark » Caribbean spiny lobster » Chambered nautilus » Krill » Queen angelfish » Sandbar shark » Southern stingray » Spinner shark » All Species
- New Species! Check out all the new species that have been launched since the last newsletter! The list is too long to post here, so visit our What’s New? page to see the hundreds of species we’ve added including all marine mammals, and sharks. We hope you enjoy them, and for you scientists and post-grad students out there, please let us know if you find any inaccuracies or would like to contribute any data or references for particular species.
- Donations! We would like to thank those of you who have generously donated from the donations page. Your generosity is helping us keep up with our bandwidth charges and will allow us to continue growing. In the near future, your donations will be tax deductible. We are getting closer to becoming a 501(c)3, so keep those checkbooks handy! Donations will help us expand the information on the site significantly, and we are already working on pages on a wide variety of topics from conservation to marine biology including: Overfishing, Threatened and Endangered Species, Alien Species, Ocean Resources, Marine Taxonomy, Phytoplankton and Marine plants, Zooplankton, Marine Invertebrates, Marine Vertebrates, Structures and Adaptations to Marine Living, Grazers and Predators, The Marine Life Cycle, Symbionts, Parasites, Hosts, and Cooperation, etc. We hope to be able to launch these and more in upcoming few months.
- Plankton Forums! As we continue to work on expanding the content on the site to bring new and important information to you, we invite you to give us feedback on what you’d like to see. Feel free to post comments in the Question or suggestion? forum in the Plankton Forums. And speaking of the Plankton forums, you can now see the most recent posts on the: updated Hourly News page, the Education & Career information page, and other pages relevant to topics in the Forum. Join in and get involved in a dialogue on the topics that interest you! We have also recently launched the Plankton Forum Portals (7 styles to choose from) which is a dashboard of sorts for the Plankton Forums, check it out.
- Interns and Volunteers! We would like to welcome all of our new interns and volunteers at MarineBio. Welcome aboard Jessica Venar, Julie Coy, Lauren Admire, Mario Lebrato, Josh Capp, Sean Whittemore, and Leigh-Anne Baller. With your help, MarineBio.org will be able to expand its content and launch more species faster to share the fascinating facts of marine life with the world. We hope that you find your work both interesting and fulfilling and we are grateful for your contributions.
- Downloads! We have recently updated the MarineBio Downloads page with new marine life videos and photos. Check it out.
Featured Species: Coral Reef Dwellers
In this newsletter we’re featuring photos and information on three species that we recently had the pleasure of observing during our Florida Expedition (click for photo gallery) in February.
CORAL REEFS STILL IN JEOPARDY
During our expedition to the reefs off the coast of South Florida, we found that the reefs in Key Largo still appeared unhealthy and were not noticeably rebounding from the massive bleaching events in the past. We also observed a great deal of algae overgrowth and were surprised at the lack of abundance and diversity of reef fish. The reef system along the Florida Keys is the 3rd largest barrier reef system in the world and these same problems exist worldwide. It has been reported that at least 10% of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed beyond recovery and 30% more are in nearly the same condition. That is 40% of the world's coral reefs nearly gone....
Coral reefs are one of the oldest and most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth — comparable to tropical rain forests. These ecosystems have been evolving for more than 200 million years, and now, in spite of their past longevity, they are being destroyed — mostly by human activities. Reefs are home to thousands of species but they only make up less than 0.25% of the marine environment, which is a tiny component of the vast marine environment. Nevertheless, they provide a home to more than 25% of all known fish species.
Why are human activities having such a detrimental and seemingly sudden impact on the health of coral reefs? Reefs that took thousands of years to evolve? Because populations worldwide have grown dramatically, particularly in developed countries where industry has created increased consumption of resources using tools, such as massive trawlers and miles of nets, that tend to favor overexploitation over sustainability. In addition, these industrial fishing methods force small communities that use traditional means of fishing sustainably into competition with larger operations causing them to abandon their conservative methods for destructive tools such as dynamite. Fortunately, some regions are enforcing traditional fishing methods and banning commercial activity to protect their resources and preserve biological diversity in their waters. Enforcing these methods has shown that time-tested traditions are sustainable by bringing depleted species back to their pre-exploited levels.
We still have a long way to go and the following are the major threats coral reef ecosystems face every day.
Dangers to Reefs
1) Ocean warming: In industrial societies, fossil fuels continue to burn at record levels leading to increased carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere, which result in global warming by trapping heat that would have otherwise been lost to space. When surface temperatures in the ocean rise, corals first react by expelling the symbiotic algae needed to sustain their energy and health, often termed "coral bleaching." Although it is possible for bleached coral to regain their symbiotic algae and recover, most bleached colonies eventually die due to the length of the warming spells. Excess carbon dioxide resulting from human pollution is causing significant problems for other marine ecosystems as well because it is absorbed in the upper 10% of the ocean where marine life is most concentrated. Excess carbon dioxide is consumed by floating plants (phytoplankton) which then bloom sometimes in deadly quantities. The excess carbon dioxide also causes other problems such as increasing the acidity (lowering the pH) of the ocean making it more difficult for animals to create calcium carbonate which they use to make their shells.... El Niño weather phenomena, also intimately linked to global warming, result from sea surface temperature rises among other factors. In 1998, the El Niño event caused massive coral bleaching for coral reefs throughout the world. Many reefs still show substantial effects from this El Niño event today, more than 6 years later. It can take thousands of years for a small reef to grow but only a few weeks under stresses like the above to be wiped out permanently.
2) Overfishing: Persistent fishing pressure on coral reefs prevents fish species from reproducing enough to maintain sustainable levels, which disrupts food webs setting off chain reactions throughout entire coral reef ecosystems. As herbivorous reef fish populations are reduced, algae growth increases, which blocks sunlight then smothers corals often killing them as well as preventing growth and the seeding (recruitment) by new corals. Not only are commercial fisheries putting massive pressure on coral reefs, even recreational and subsistence fishing are now known to pose an increasing threat to coral reefs.
3) Destructive fishing: In addition to overfishing, the use of cyanide and dynamite by fishermen in some regions is a practice that, in the blink of an eye, destroys corals which took millions of years to create. The cyanide solutions are used to stun the fish (which are often headed to U.S. pet stores), making them easier to catch, but it also kills any corals it comes in contact with. Most pet fish caught this way also die eventually, but usually not for a few weeks, as their internal organs degrade and finally stop functioning. Dynamite, which shouldn't even be available, is used to stun/kill fish which float to the surface for easy picking. Since fish often hide in and around corals, the corals also get blasted. We have personally seen the results the dynamite fishing in Fiji, vast areas of shattered dead coral heads and crater after crater... leaving no doubt in our minds that an undersea war is truly underway and marine life is losing.
4) Human disturbance: Careless boaters drop anchors on the reefs, snorkelers and divers crash into, walk on, and remove coral, fishermen leave debris behind such as miles of nets, fishing line and millions of hooks, harming both coral reefs structures and the marine life that inhabits them, even sunscreen is thought to settle on coral reefs, which may cause sunlight blockage. These problems combined are significant threats to coral reef ecosystems, yet they are the easiest to prevent. The problem is the inherent invisibility of marine ecosystems, "out of sight, out of mind" is probably the most common and destructive philosophy responsible for marine habitat destruction. Every boater and fisherman should learn to scuba dive so they can see what is at stake. Most scuba divers now know and practice the mantra "take only photos, leave only bubbles" and many even waste expensive hours underwater cleaning up trash from reefs. We carry knives not to defend ourselves but to cut fishing line and trash from undersea gardens....
5) Sediment: Increasing sediment in coastal areas from rivers and created by erosion by development and deforestation settles on coral reefs and blocks the sunlight needed for photosynthesis much like excessive algae, which is essential for the corals to survive. Worldwide destruction of estuaries, salt marshes, and mangrove forests that usually filter sediment coming from erosion on land has also greatly increased the amount of sediment delivered to marine habitats including reefs.
6) Pollution: Human and animal waste, industrial byproducts, fertilizers, and other chemicals are finding their way into the oceans and poisoning coral reefs and also causing harmful algae overgrowth. Pollution created by the increasing human populations in coastal regions is also harming coral reefs by introducing infectious microorganisms through sewage contamination that cause coral diseases such as white band and black band disease leading to widespread destruction of reefs.
Surprisingly most sewage treatment plants in the U.S. that discharge treated sewage directly and indirectly into the ocean are only required to perform the first level of treatment. Called "Primary treatment", it is the initial stage of sewage treatment and involves only removing solid particles. Sewage is filtered through fine screens to remove solid matter such as paper, cotton tips and plastic. Heavy particles like sand sink to the bottom and are removed. The sewage then flows into the primary sedimentation tanks. Here human waste, called sludge, settles to the bottom and oils and grease float to the top where they are collected. In high flow systems serving large populations even fewer solids are removed. The rest goes into the ocean. What should be done to protect marine life is called "Tertiary treatment" which includes bacterial decomposition, the removal of dissolved and emulsified components, the removal of inorganic compounds (like toxic metals, etc.), and substances such as the plant nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus (which often cause planktonic blooms). Of course, Tertiary treatment is relatively expensive and will only be mandatory when governments make it so....
Coal plants and Chlorine production plants are the two main sources of mercury. Mercury is absorbed by the ocean, and therefore by fish, many of which have dangerously high concentrations of mercury in their flesh, causing the warnings about eating too much fish, both freshwater and marine fish worldwide. Only stricter regulations by pro-environmental governments will address this issue. And then only time will allow the mercury in marine life (and us) to decrease to natural levels.
Apart from climate change, most of these threats can be quickly lessened. Fishing pressure and reef fish populations can be more closely monitored, subsistence fishermen can be reeducated, improved monitoring of water quality can be implemented, the destruction of estuaries, salt marshes, and mangrove forests can be prohibited, the use of cyanide and dynamite on coral reefs can be banned, marine recreation enthusiasts can be educated on the long-term damage to coral reefs caused by touching, breaking, or otherwise handling the coral.
If solutions are not implemented very soon, coral reefs are in real jeopardy of becoming marine wonders of the past. And with them will go all of the creatures that depend on them for survival. Please help today, our children do not inherit the world from us, we are borrowing it from them.
Report sees bleak future for coral reefs, faults protection efforts
Mar. 17, 2005 - "The coral reefs of South Florida will continue to decline, becoming little more than "rubble, seaweed and slime," unless the government takes stronger steps to protect them, according to an article published Friday in the journal Science.
An international team of 11 scientists assessed the status of coral reefs in Florida and Hawaii, the only states with substantial reef systems, and found that the government's efforts to protect them have been piecemeal and ineffective. As a result, these reefs are succumbing to over-fishing, pollution, disease and global warming."
Coral Reef Conservation groups
Coral Cay Conservation: a UK-based non-profit organization focused on ecotourism that sends volunteers to collect data on endangered coral reefs and tropical forests.
Center for Ecosystem Survival (CES): CES works to protect coral reefs through its Adopt a Reef Program to raise funds for the conservation of threatened and endangered coral reefs and their surrounding marine ecosystems around the world.
Coral Reef Alliance: works with the diving community and others to protect and manage coral reefs around the world, establish marine parks, raise awareness, and assist conservation efforts.
Global Coral Reef Alliance GCRA: a coalition of volunteer scientists, divers, environmentalists and other individuals and organizations, committed to coral reef preservation. We primarily focus on coral reef restoration, marine diseases and other issues caused by global climate change, environmental stress and pollution.
Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network: tasked by national governments, United Nations agencies, international NGOs and marine institutes to promote monitoring of the coral reefs of the world. The aim is to raise awareness on their current status and provide data to assist resource managers in coral reef conservation.
Great Barrier Reef Foundation: raises and manages funds for scientific efforts on the Great Barrier Reef carried out by Australian research institutions to: encourage understanding of human and natural causes of changes to the reef, conservation and restoration, promote human welfare for reef dependent populations, build partnerships for education.
International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN): a collaborative effort working to halt and reverse the decline in health of the world’s coral reefs.
Planetary Coral Reef Foundation: working to preserve and protect the earth's coral reefs through science, technology and education, including. Provides students with research experience aboard the RV Heraclitus.
Project Aware Foundation: PADI's foundation established to help conserve underwater environments through a wide variety of activities including education, advocacy, and action.
Reef Check: a volunteer, community-based monitoring mechanism operating in more than 60 countries designed to measure and maintain the health of coral reefs.
ReefBase: to facilitate sustainable management of coral reefs and related coastal/marine environments, in order to benefit poor people in developing countries whose livelihoods depend on these natural resources.
Reef Guardian International: a public-interest advocacy organization protecting coral reefs and their marine life by safeguarding reefs from threats introduced by commercial interests and pollution.
Interview with an Aquanaut: Deron Burkepile
We were fortunate enough to interview marine scientist Deron Burkepile, an aquanaut of Aquarius, an underwater laboratory and habitat that enables scientists to remain underwater for missions up to 10 days long. Deron is currently completing his doctoral work in marine biology at Georgia Tech University. We greatly appreciate Deron’s time answering our questions and helping us out with the article on coral reefs for this newsletter. Understanding the science behind coral reef ecosystems is critical to finding ways to preserve them.
The Aquarius can withstand water pressure up to 37 meters deep and is currently located at Conch Reef, approximately nine miles south of Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The Aquarius habitat is situated at a depth of 19 meters. Aquarius weighs 73,482 kg and measures 13x6x5 meters. A space that includes all the creature comforts: 6 bunks, a bathroom, hot water, a microwave, a refrigerator, and air conditioning. The wireless computers on the habitat are linked to the shore base in Key Largo.
Aquarius is owned by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and operated by the National Undersea Research Center (NURC) of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Scientists like Deron are able to remain on Aquarius by saturation diving, defined by NOAA as: An exposure of sufficient duration so that the diver's tissue gases reach equilibrium with the pressure environment; once this occurs, the decompression time required at the end of a dive does not increase with additional time spent at any depth the diver works out of a habitat or other pressurized chamber.
MarineBio: Why did you decide to become a marine biologist?
Deron: My love of marine biology and nature comes from a strong sense of purpose to make a difference in the world in terms of conserving our natural resources and the few wild places we have left here on earth. This sense of purpose began when my hydrophobic parents let me get certified in SCUBA when I was 13 and then indulged all my marine biology interests by taking me to aquariums, buying me all the books on marine life I could read, and financing a fleet of saltwater aquariums.
In high school I exhausted all the SCUBA diving options in North Mississippi and Alabama, which usually means diving in water the color of chocolate milk, while managing a dive in the ocean on occasion. However, none of these dives compared to the summer after my senior year of high school that I spent on the West Indies island of Anguilla taking a marine biology course taught by Dr. Steven Webster of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Nothing solidified my love of marine biology more than being fully absorbed in learning about coral reefs from great scientists and teachers.
MarineBio: What is your field of research?
Deron: I am a community ecologist, which means that I study the interactions between plants and animals and their environment and how different forces (herbivory, predation, food supply) affect the community of plants and animals. More specifically I study coral reef communities and how/why herbivores (fishes and urchins mostly) are important to the healthy ecological functioning of coral reefs.
MarineBio: What research were you conducting that was facilitated by your last stay on Aquarius?
Deron: One of the big buzzwords in ecology and environmental science now is biodiversity or diversity. More specifically there is a lot of research going on examining how biodiversity is important for the healthy functioning of our ecosystems. I am doing work on how diversity of herbivorous fishes is important to the health of coral reef ecosystems. The project consists of using large (4 meter squared) cages to cage in different species of parrotfish and surgeonfish to determine their species-specific effects on the seaweed and coral communities within the cages. We also use mixes of the fish species to determine how having a diversity of the herbivore species differs from having only single species fish communities. By obtaining data on how these individual species affect coral reef communities, we can then determine which species are of primary importance for keeping coral reefs healthy and how important having herbivore diversity is to keeping coral reefs on the right track. Without the Aquarius, setting up a large project like this would be extremely difficult.
MarineBio: How much more "bottom time" do you get by saturation diving?
Deron: Theoretically you have unlimited time if you stay at the same depth of the Aquarius. But since we were going deeper than the depth we were living at we were limited to around 9 hours a day. We could do a 5-6 hour dive in the morning, take a mandatory rest period of 4 hours, and then do a 3-4 hour dive in the afternoon/evening. It makes for long and cold but very fun day.
MarineBio: Describe a typical day on the Aquarius...
Deron: For us it was get up about 5AM, groggily eat breakfast and have a cup of coffee. Then it was time to get dressed for work and put on my suit, wetsuit not three-piece of course. That was not always pleasant because your wetsuits never really dry when you are down there so first thing in the morning you are putting on a cold, damp wetsuit. Not that pleasant but will definitely wake you up.
Then I made my morning commute to work – a 10 minute swim to our field site. For the morning dive, we typically spent five hours at our field site building cages, securing them, catching fish, collecting data, taking photographs, etc.
When our scuba cylinders would run low on air, we went to a fill station right by our field site to refill them. We didn’t even have to swim back to the Aquarius to refill our tanks. At the fill station, there was an air pocket where we could have a snack and a drink to curb the hunger and thirst while our tanks were filling. We didn’t even have to take the tanks off. We could fill them right on our backs by plugging a high pressure air hose that was connected to our tanks into a high pressure air hose that was connected to the Aquarius’ compressed air banks.
After our five hours on the reef were over, we swam back to the Aquarius for our mandatory four hour break. On the break we had lunch, drank coffee and hot chocolate to try to warm up. Most of us usually snuck in a nap to recover some energy. Most of the time I skipped the nap to watch fish out the view ports. I had trouble taking a nap when I could watch fish instead.
After our rest break was over, it was time to get into the cold, wet wetsuit again for the afternoon dive. We usually started the dive around 3PM and dove until 6. We did pretty much the same type of things as during the morning dive. One of the coolest parts was that the end of our afternoon dive usually went into dusk and the first part of darkness of the evening. So we could see the reef change from day to night which was very cool. We would see big schools of barracuda swimming past, the nocturnal animals would come out like big basket stars that would perch on the edges of sponges and extend all their arms like a huge plankton dragnet. Watching the sunsets from underwater was very relaxing. While you couldn’t really see the colors, you could see the outline of the sun getting smaller as it went below the horizon.
After the dive, it was back to the Aquarius for a warm, but very short, shower and dinner. More hot chocolate. Dessert. Then I would usually plan our tasks for the next day of diving. I would relax by reading a little and watch the fish out the view ports. At night we would turn on the external lights on the Aquarius which would attract lots of small plankton and other crustaceans – like moths to your porch light. This would attract all sorts of little fish that would dart in and out of the plankton swarm to get an evening snack. It was a complete joy to watch. Then it was bedtime and very sound sleeping before the day started early the next morning.
MarineBio: Are rebreathers ever used?
Deron: We don’t use rebreathers or any really fancy gear for our diving from Aquarius. It is pretty much normal SCUBA gear, but there is plenty of redundancy in the equipment just in case of the unlikely event of an equipment failure then we have backup gear and of course our dive buddy to help us out. We have two large 120cubic foot scuba cylinders (normal cylinders you would dive with are 80 cubic foot cylinders), two regulators one on each tank and then safety gear such as line reels, compass, slate, and radio on the very slim chance that we find ourselves at the surface.
MarineBio: What is your favorite aspect of "living underwater" in a saturation environment?
Deron: For marine biologists that only get a limited amount of time observing the animals, plants, and communities that they study, living in the Aquarius is the ultimate experience. You get to do your work and observe the reef without worrying about bottom time and air consumption. You can be totally absorbed with the reef with few other things to worry about. Since I love watching fish and how they eat and behave, I could watch fish all day long if I wanted to. I could watch them while I was diving and then watch them while I was in the Aquarius through the viewports. I guess my favorite aspect was getting just a taste of what it is like to be a fish and actually live on a coral reef.
MarineBio: What is the worst aspect?
Deron: I guess the worst aspect would be the cold. I am an admitted thermal wimp. I grew up in Mississippi so I’m not used to being very cold for very long. But in the Aquarius it was tough to get warm. When you dive for up to 9 hours a day, you lose a lot of body heat even if you are wearing a thick wetsuit (I had a 5mm suit with a 7mm shorty on top of that so I was wearing lots of rubber). It’s tough to regain that body heat when you go back inside the Aquarius because the habitat is air conditioned to keep the humidity inside low to prevent complications with the electronics. So you get cold diving, you can’t really warm up when you stop diving, then you get colder on the next dive. It’s a tough cycle over ten days. I tried to combat the cold by drinking lots of hot chocolate and coffee and eating lots of hot food. We had lots of instant soup, freeze-dried meals, etc. which may not sound gourmet but after a long cold dive it might as well be filet mignon and lobster you are so hungry.
MarineBio: Is there anything about living in an underwater habitat that makes you nervous or that you find scary?
Deron: Surprisingly no. Once you overcome the novelty of actually living underwater, it all seems quite normal. Every now and then when I was diving I would look up to the surface of the ocean and think “Wow I can’t go up there or it would be a big problem” but those thoughts never really bothered me. It was more of a fleeting thought. I was so caught up in the work we were doing, how much fun it was to be on the reef for so long every day, getting to watch the fish outside the habitat even when we were on the inside that I didn’t really have time to be nervous or scared. I was having too much fun!!!
MarineBio: What advice would you give up and coming marine biologists in terms of education, specialty areas, and what it's like to have a career as a marine biologist?
Deron: My first piece of advice would be if you have a passion for biology or the outdoors, get outside as much as possible. Enjoy the natural areas where you are. Watch birds, fish, go canoeing, anything that gets you outside. You can learn more about the natural world by being out in it and observing plants and animals than by reading books on it. If you think you want to be a professional biologist, marine or otherwise, get a good college education in general biology. Undergraduate is too early, in my opinion, to get a specialized degree in marine biology unless it’s the only degree you are going to get. If you want to get a graduate degree don’t specialize too early. You need a broad education to work from. Since science is becoming more interdisciplinary, you need to know many aspects of different sciences to be an efficient scientist.
As for being a marine biologist, it’s a pretty great life. SCUBA diving is a big part of my job. I’m getting paid to figure out some of the ways that nature works and how we can best go about preserving pieces of it. So I’m doing something I love and trying to make a contribution to society at the same time. What could be better!
The Sea Below ~ Expedition :: South Florida
Southern Florida and the Keys
We landed at the Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood airport eager to check out the reefs off the coast of Southern Florida. The next morning we drove north to Boynton Beach to check in with Splashdown Divers, a local dive operation owned by Captain Lynn, one of the best dive boat captains in southern Florida and who also has a degree in marine biology. We knew she would be the right person to help us find the critters. To our surprise, the water was quite cold for South Florida. The average water temperature was 23°C, which may not sound cold, but in the windy cold weather — the surface intervals are very chilly! On the first few days, we had winds out of the northeast that created 2 meter waves making it challenging through the Boynton Beach inlet to the open sea, but Captain Lynn handled it like it was just another day at the beach. Once we got past the chop of the inlet, we found the waves only slightly smaller and the surge was fairly strong. We jumped in anyway and, in spite of low visibility caused by the churned up water, the reefs and marine life were impressive. Most of the coral was low profile, but there was a wide variety of colorful sponges including enormous barrel sponges. The reefs appeared to be in good health and there was an abundance of reef fish.
The photo opportunities abounded, and MarineBio's David Campbell, with a new strobe and wide angle and macro lenses had great success. Among the many species we saw, some of the most memorable were: friendly Hawksbill and Loggerhead sea turtles, Nurse sharks, Green and Goldentail moray eels, Queen and French angelfish, Midnight parrotfish, Caribbean spiny lobsters, Spotted eagle rays, and a rare pod of Rough-toothed dolphins.
A few weeks after we returned home, between 70-110 rough-toothed dolphins consisting of mostly mothers and babies were discovered stranded in the Florida Keys. Several of the mothers were pregnant and gave birth to stillborn babies before they died as well. The use of sonar during U.S. Navy submarine exercises is suspected as a possible cause, which is interesting given that we observed a Navy submarine of some sort conducting exercises near the reef where we saw the dolphins. In addition, Navy submarine exercises were reported to have taken place off Key West closer to where the dolphins were stranded.
It is thought that loud bursts of sonar disorient marine mammals causing them to surface too quickly, which leads to excess nitrogen that decompresses too quickly in the bloodstream causing severe pain and often, death. NOAA scientists are apparently still conducting post-mortem examinations of the dolphins that died to determine the cause.
Following our week of diving (approx. 20 dives logged) off the coast of Florida, we headed down to Key Largo to enjoy the world famous diving in the Keys. Unfortunately, the reefs to the north were a tough act to follow, and the reefs we dove in Key Largo seemed to be startlingly unhealthy. Enormous brain corals were half eaten by disease, the fish did not appear as abundant as they did farther north, and there appeared to still be extensive evidence of bleaching and algae overgrowth on the hard corals in the shallow Key Largo waters. The barrier coral reef along the Florida Keys is the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world, and yet it remains largely unprotected. It extends for 200 miles and is of extreme economic importance to the region because of the revenue generated through tourism, which averages $1.6 billion annually. Unfortunately, the realization that the reefs have reached a critical stage of degradation is coming too late as reefs in the Keys are at least halfway to ecological extinction. A fact that is painfully apparent by the lack of large predatory fishes and reef fishes. In spite of the opening of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 1990, pollution, disease, overfishing, and warmer waters caused by global warming have clearly taken their toll and continue to threaten what's left of this reef system. The Sanctuary’s management plan to date has prohibited fishing in only 6% of sanctuary waters. Other countries including Cuba, the Bahamas, and Australia have set aside 20-22% of the waters surrounding their reef systems as “no take zones” to prevent further damage and to reverse the decline in species and reef health.
MarineBio.org will soon begin looking at this issue more closely so that we can find a way to help save one of the United States’ most precious resources. Part of the reason for this expedition was to explore the possibility of relocating to South Florida in the coming year to become more involved in marine conservation efforts there, and to operate MarineBio.org closer to a marine environment so that we can continue to provide you with spectacular photography and information. Stay tuned for updates…
A great book we read during the surface intervals on our expedition to Florida is "Cephalopods: A World Guide" by Mark Norman and illustrated by Helmut Debelius. This book features more than 800 images of a wide variety of cephalopods including: octopuses, squids, and cuttlefishes. The book describes the amazing, almost alien, abilities and behaviors of these creatures that are some of the most talented masters of disguise in the ocean. They also come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes from miniscule to monstrous, and they can be found anywhere in the ocean from shallow reefs to the deepest parts of the ocean. MarineBio.org thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and highly recommends it.
We also recommend “A Field Guide to Coral Reefs: Caribbean and Florida" by Eugene H. Kaplan. This book provides drawings and some color and black and white photos of coral reef species and the reef species that inhabit them. Reefs are defined and described in this book along with information on their ecology and on the species that inhabit coral reefs. This small book is an excellent companion for a dive trip to Florida or the Caribbean.
Finally, we’d like to recommend “The Enchanted Braid” written by scientific journalist Osha Gray Davidson. The book describes the condition of the world’s largest coral reef systems and the threats to their health and sustainability. Overfishing, the use of dynamite and cyanide on coral reefs, and coastal development are just some of the problems that have caused irreversible damage to at least 10% of the world’s reefs. Another 30% are now also close to being destroyed beyond recovery. This book provides an excellent understanding of the critical state the world’s reefs are in and what we need to do to protect them.
Feedback & Citation
Find an error or having trouble with something? Let us know and we'll have a look!
Help us continue to share the wonders of the ocean with the world, raise awareness of marine conservation issues and their solutions, and support marine conservation scientists and students involved in the marine life sciences. Join the MarineBio Conservation Society or make a donation today. We would like to sincerely thank all of our members, donors, and sponsors, we simply could not have achieved what we have without you and we look forward to doing even more.