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Posts Tagged ‘reef’

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Photos: Agata Poniatowski
Oyster shells from restaurants get taken to Governors Island in the heart of the New York Harbor to be used in fighting erosion. Billion Oyster Project has collected more than 1 million pounds of oyster shells so far. 

I go to poetry readings at the local library, and inevitably in the question period, someone in the audience asks the poet, “How do you get your ideas?” (This is a question poets expect, and they always have a ready answer. Watch for the deer-in-the-headlights look if you ask a question they don’t expect.)

But I’m not sure any of us really know where we get our ideas. There is something mysterious about the way individual brains connect connect things heard, seen, smelled, touched, tasted with their individual experiences.

Today’s story is about shoring up an eroding harbor with recycled oyster shells. The idea to use oysters this way comes from years of research and contributions from many people. But, according to the report at National Public Radio (NPR), an idea for extending the benefits came from kids. Read on.

Andrea Strong reports, “Across New York City, more than 70 restaurants are tossing their oyster shells not into the trash or composting pile, but into the city’s eroded harbor. It’s all part of Billion Oyster Project‘s restaurant shell-collection program. …

“The shells are trucked over to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood and once a month are brought en masse to Governors Island in the heart of the New York Harbor, just yards away from both Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. There, rolling shell hills sparkle in the sun while ‘curing’ out in the elements for one year, a process that rids them of contaminants.

“The shells then get a final cleaning and are moved to Billion Oyster Project’s hatchery at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island that offers technical and vocational training in the marine sciences. In an aquaculture classroom’s hatchery, student-grown oysters produce larvae in an artificially induced springtime environment.

“In one to two weeks, each larvae grows a ‘foot’ — a little limb covered in a kind of natural glue — and then is moved to a tank full of the ‘cured’ restaurant shells, which serve as anchors for all of those sticky feet. This phase is critical: If larvae can’t find a place to attach, they die. One reclaimed shell can house 10 to 20 new live oysters, depending on shell size. …

“If the water is warm enough, mature oysters are moved to a reef structure — a cage or shellfish bag — that provides a stable area for oysters to fuse together and create a healthy reef in the New York Harbor.

“Then, the oysters begin doing what oysters do — which, it turns out, is quite a lot. Oysters are natural water filters; each one cleans 30 to 50 gallons of water a day. They also provide food and shelter for all sorts of marine creatures, supporting biodiversity. …

“Oyster reefs can protect against a hurricane’s wave velocity, which can destroy a city’s infrastructure. The New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery has partnered with Billion Oyster Project to install oysters on its $74 million Living Breakwaters Project, which aims to reduce and reverse erosion and damage from storm waves, improve the ecosystem health of Raritan Bay and encourage environmentally conscious stewardship of nearshore waters. …

“Brian Owens, who goes through about 20,000 oysters a week at his restaurant, Crave Fishbar, … says the project is not just smart for sustainability; it’s also good for business. Recycling shells significantly reduces carting expenses, something all NYC restaurants must pay for by the bag. ‘Recycling them into the reef is a huge savings,’ he says.

“In addition to saving on garbage collection, restaurants may soon be eligible for a tax credit thanks to New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. The credit is a much needed balm for restaurants that have been hit with escalating costs and increasing regulatory burdens over the past few years. …

“The idea came from neither restaurants nor Rosenthal, but from students at one of Billion Oyster Project’s partner schools, West End Secondary on the Upper West Side.

“Rosenthal championed their idea, building support for the bill and bringing the students to Albany to learn about lawmaking and to participate in a press conference.

“Education of the next generation of environmental stewards has been at the heart of Billion Oyster Project since its inception in 2008, when [Billion Oyster Project Executive Director Pete] Malinowski was teaching aquaculture at the Harbor School. …

“Fifteen years later … that classroom program has grown into Billion Oyster Project and now includes programming in more than 80 middle and high schools. That works out to about 1,215 high school students and more than 6,500 middle school students. …

” Through this work, students develop awareness and affinity for the resource and the confidence that comes from knowing their actions can make a difference. With young people who care, the harbor has a real fighting chance,’ ” says Malinowski.

More.

Sending 422 oyster reef structures into the Hudson River to protect and purify New York Harbor.

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new20reef201

Photo: Valeria Pizarro
The Varadero reef has survived in Colombia’s Cartagena Bay despite toxicity from heavy shipping. The corals grow twice as fast as similar corals elsewhere, but their skeletons are less dense, which may have something to do with their success.

The news about coral reefs has not been good for a long time. Rising temperatures and too much carbon dioxide have been killing off these delicate creatures worldwide, with dire consequences for the marine life that depends on their intricate communities.

But what is going on in Cartagena Bay? Elizabeth Svoboda has a fascinating story at the Christian Science Monitor.

“For the coastal communities that have harvested its bounty for centuries, and for the scientists who officially discovered it five years ago, there is no reef like Varadero. Locals call it ‘the improbable reef,’ and for good reason: It has persevered in the midst of intensive coastal development, streams of toxic runoff from the nearby Canal del Dique (Dike Canal), and waters so warm they’d turn many reefs into lifeless skeletons.

“Scientists like Lizcano-Sandoval and Pennsylvania State University’s Mónica Medina are working to uncover the secrets of Varadero’s striking resilience – secrets they can use to help other threatened reefs around the world.

“But just as Varadero begins to yield its tantalizing scientific bounty, it’s looking as if the reef may be damaged or even destroyed. A group of government officials, port authorities, and businesspeople is planning to dredge a channel so Cartagena’s harbor can accommodate more container ships – a move they say will boost the nation’s economy. However, the researchers who study Varadero, along with local environmental activists, are hoping to stall the dredging project so the reef’s storied legacy can continue – and perhaps contribute to the rescue of other endangered underwater Edens. …

” ‘Corals in Varadero have a very distinct growth pattern,’ says biologist Roberto Iglesias-Prieto, Dr. Medina’s colleague at Pennsylvania State University. Specifically, the corals grow about twice as fast as similar corals elsewhere, but their skeletons are less dense; it’s possible that these traits give them an advantage over their slower-growing coral counterparts.

“Medina thinks certain elements in runoff from the Canal del Dique may be benefiting the corals in surprising ways. ‘Part of the day, [the corals] get these nutrient-rich waters where they’re eating and photosynthesizing,’ Medina says. She notes that fairly recent changes in coral growth coincide with a period when more sediment was being dumped into the bay. …

“Varadero’s corals might also benefit from their location right at the mouth of Cartagena Bay. “They have constant communication with the sea,” [Dr. Valeria Pizarro, who discovered the reef,] says. The fresh inflow of ocean water might lessen the impact of toxic mercury, cadmium, and copper that runs off into the bay from nearby industrial facilities.

“Medina and her colleagues are trying to figure out if other aspects of the reef’s biology contribute to its success – aspects that could ultimately be replicated in reefs elsewhere. … Samples of microbes from Varadero’s corals – the onboard collection of bacteria, viruses, and algae that perform critical metabolic tasks – have revealed that they are totally distinct from those found on other reefs, Medina says. Her lab is conducting a detailed analysis to find out whether the microbes might be performing important functions, such as fighting disease, that help the corals to survive even in less-than-ideal conditions.

“In the future, if conservationists can transport Varadero’s hardy corals to other endangered reefs around the world, or even seed threatened reefs with whatever microbial cocktail helps Varadero’s corals thrive, those reefs might have a better chance of surviving despite ocean warming and pollution. Many of the world’s reefs now hang in a liminal zone between death and survival. By putting Varadero corals’ survival tactics to work on other threatened reefs, scientists like Medina, Lizcano-Sandoval, and Pizarro hope to tilt those reefs a little bit closer to the side of life.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Maria Popova linked to this story on twitter. It’s about how climate change is affecting a way of life for Fiji Islanders.

Meehan Crist writes at the blog Nautil.us, “The day that conservation biologist Joshua Drew, his two students, and I arrive in the Fijian village of Nagigi, the wind is blowing so hard that the coconut palms are bent sideways. ‘Trade winds,’ we are told. And, ‘El Nino. The villagers here also know that climate change is affecting the weather, but their more immediate problem, shared across the Pacific—and, indeed, the world—is an ocean ecosystem sorely depleted by overfishing.

“Nagigi is a village of about 240 people living in tin-roofed wooden homes strung along a sandy coastline. A single paved road runs the length of the village, parallel to the ocean, and along this road are homes clustered by family, painted in cheerful pastels, and connected by well-worn paths through the crab grass. ‘Before,’ said Avisake Nasi, a woman in her late 50s who has been fishing this reef her whole life, ‘you just go out and you find plenty fish. Now, you have to look.’ …

“If pressures mount from too many sides at once—rising ocean temperatures, acidification, pollution, overfishing—the combined pressure will be too much even for Fiji’s remarkably resilient reefs to bear. …

“Conservationists and humanitarian groups have recently united in the call for sustainable resource management, and in this trend, Nagigi is ahead of much of the Western world. Villagers have been discussing how they might use a traditional ban on fishing known as a tabu (tam-bu) to help manage their marine resources in new ways. …

“Drew presents his findings about how fish here are interconnected with other reefs, and how to best protect the species most important to the village in terms of food and income. He talks about how, for the last three years, he has been collecting baseline data about the species present on the reef so that if the village sets up a tabu, its effects can be measured.

“His audience is most interested in what Drew has to say about where to set up a tabu—include the mangroves at the left side of the village shore, because they act as fish nurseries—and for how long—three years would give crucial species enough time to mature and spawn. There has been some talk of a one-year tabu, which would be less of a hardship for villagers who will have to walk a mile or more to reach ocean where they are allowed to fish. But Drew’s data suggest this wouldn’t be long enough to make the sort of difference the village wants to see. ‘I can only offer information,’ Drew says at the end of his presentation, ‘the decision is yours.’ ”

The reporting for Crist’s  story was made possible by a grant from the Mindlin Foundation.

Try to see the related climate-change movie Revolution, which I wrote about here.

Photo: Meehan Crist
The view from Nagigi’s school to the sea, where many locals make their living

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Suzanne’s Mom was asked to review Revolution, a film by the young environmentalist, biologist, diver, and Sharkwater filmmaker Rob Stewart.

Encompassing gorgeous deep-sea photography, scientific climate-change testimony, a representative of the drowning country of Seychelles, and many youth demonstrations, the documentary forces you to think about what the burning of fossil fuels is doing to the oceans and what it means for the future of the planet. It also gives you the sense that anyone can do something about it — take up a camera, make a poster, or write a letter that makes a change.

The film is infused with a sense of youth, of young people saying, “Enough!” I particularly loved the moment early on when Stewart, who had read only two books on filmmaking, is flubbing his lines in front of Darwin’s Arch. What comes across in addition to the humorous inexperience is a feeling of energy, optimism, and determination.

The film has many engaging details about sea life that Stewart can’t resist throwing in, like how the endangered pygmy seahorse, which camouflages itself to look like coral, “mates for life — and the guy gets pregnant!”

He talks about how the burning of fossil fuels creates too much carbon dioxide, which is absorbed by the ocean and is harmful to anything that needs to grow a skeleton, which is pretty much everything but nasty, poisonous creatures that flourish in the muck where corals died, like the flamboyant cuttlefish. Coral expert Charlie Veron comments that at the same rate of ocean acidification caused by too much CO2, there will be no coral reefs in 50 years.

Stewart also looks at the island nation Madagascar, sole home of lemurs, explaining that endangered tropical forests are responsible for 1/4 of the world’s species and 1/3 of our oxygen. Madagascar scientist Serge Rajaobelina says that population growth on the island and the burning of the trees for development has meant the loss of 80 percent of the forest in 40 years, more than in 55 million years.

The movie goes on to cover perhaps a few too many youth protests, including one in which an inspired, tree-planting young boy says, “We have found we have to save our own future,” and is later arrested in tears.

But then we get to see that children and young adults are actually having an impact.

A sixth-grade class in Saipan writes letters to the Saipan government against killing sharks for shark fin soup, and the government signs a law preventing the practice. In fact, we are told, since the first Stewart film, China, the main adherent of shark-fin soup, has dropped the practice by 70 percent, and 100 countries have banned it.

The upbeat Saipan children who comment on their successful advocacy embody the truth of my favorite Pete Seeger line, “one and one and 50 make a million.” Says one, “Maybe the world might not end because of what we are doing.”

Watch the Revolution trailer here.

[We do not accept gifts here, so the DVD that the film company sends me for screening and reviewing will be forwarded to Save the Bay, RI.]

The late Rob Stewart. The filmmaker did not come up from a dive 1/31/17 near Key Largo.
rob_stewart_memdf

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One of the sources I check for ideas to share with you is the website for the delightful environmental radio show, Living on Earth.

A story about the healthy coral reefs in the deep water off Cuba caught my eye, especially as there has been a resurgence of interest in Cuba lately.

Living on Earth host Steve Curwood interviews Robert Wintner about his latest book, Reef Libre: The Last, Best Reefs in the World.

“CURWOOD: Now, your book is very timely. Come on, tell me … you got some kind of tip off on this political thaw? …

“WINTNER: I thank Neptune for that. We got word of this particular reef system [that was] called the last best reef system in the world. And the three qualifiers for that rating were 100 percent biodiversity (that means all the species that were ever there are there now, and in fact some they thought were extinct), 100 percent coral cover and 100 percent host of apex predators, and that was the key right there to restoring these reefs to healthy conditions. No natural system can survive intact without apex predators, that’s what allows every level of the food chain beneath it to be at optimum balance. And the glaring example in the world today is Cuban reefs, our Jardines de la Reina. That’s the ocean people talk about, that the world used to have, that we used to love. It’s there in in Cuba.”

Read all about it here., or listen to the broadcast. Lots of amazing photos. And be sure to note how the Cubans control the invasive lionfish by removing the spines and conditioning bigger predators to the taste.

Photo: Robert Wintner at Living on Earth
Reef Libre: The Last, Best Reefs in the World is diver and photographer Robert Wintner’s most recently published book.

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Some posts at Andrew Sullivan I only need to glance at briefly and bells go off: for example, this entry about an artist who works with coral.

Andrew quotes Amelia Urry writing about Courtney Mattison, who became enamored of coral while studying conservation biology at Brown University and moonlighting at the Rhode Island School of Design.

“Mattison’s newest piece, Our Changing Seas III,” says Urry at Grist, “depicts a hurricane-spiral of bleached corals coalescing to a bright center. You can read it as a message of hope or one of impending doom, depending on your disposition …

At the heart of Mattison’s artwork is her desire to inspire real-life changes in how people view and treat the world’s oceans and environments. Similar to the Our Changing Seas series, Courtney Mattison’s Hope Spots collection comprises 18 vignettes, each of which represents a vital marine ecosystem in its ideal form (that is, protected from various threats such as global warming or pollution).” Read more at Grist, here.

Art: Courtney Mattison
“Our Changing Seas III,” a ceramic coral reef

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