Travel distances of juvenile fish key to better conservation

Travel distances of juvenile fish key to better conservation

As part of the largest, most comprehensive study of larval dispersal ever conducted, scientists were able to determine that most of the juvenile clownfish stayed relatively close to home, settling at mean distances of 10-15 kilometers from their natal reefs. Credit: Simon Thorrold, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Marine reserves—sections of the ocean where fishing is prohibited—promote coral reef sustainability by preventing overfishing and increasing fish abundance and diversity. But to be effective, they need to be sized right, and in a way that accounts for how far juvenile fish travel away from their parents after spawning.

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), along with researchers from Australia, France, and Saudi Arabia, have successfully measured the dispersal distances of two species across a 3,000 square mile section of the ocean—an area the size of Yellowstone National Park. The study, published in the May 8, 2017, issue of the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, marks the largest, most comprehensive study of larval dispersal ever conducted and has important implications for the sizing and spacing of .

“How far fish will disperse in their lifetimes is critical when you start thinking about how marine reserves should be designed,” said Simon Thorrold, co-author of the study and a senior scientist at WHOI. “This is the first time we’ve been able to measure dispersal distances on spatial scales that are relevant to marine reserves, which means we can now provide data that informs management on optimal spacing and sizing.”

Size matters

Marine reserves come in many shapes and sizes. But if a reserve is too small, it can’t accommodate enough larvae to sustain populations. And if it’s too big, larvae will simply stay within the confines of the reserve without contributing to surrounding fisheries—a critical secondary role marine reserves need to play to improve fisheries management.

To get a read on fish dispersal in the past, scientists relied on population genetics approaches that lacked the power to measure dispersal over space and time scales relevant to protected areas of the ocean. More recently, ecologists have turned to computer-generated models of water currents to track particles through virtual oceans. According to Thorrold, this approach also has limitations since there was no way to verify the accuracy of the models. “The software can generate a lot of cool-looking graphs, but it was impossible to test the skill of those models in any real way.”

An empirical approach

To overcome these limitations, Thorrold and his colleagues took direct measurements of dispersal distances in the field. They collected DNA samples from thousands of adult and juvenile clownfish and butterflyfish throughout Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea, in 2009 and 2011. The entire sampling process occurred underwater, with the 30-person science team spending thousands of man-hours on SCUBA over several weeks in the field each year.

Travel distances of juvenile fish key to better conservation

How far fish will disperse in their lifetimes is critical when you start thinking about how marine reserves should be designed, according to WHOI biologist Simon Thorrold, co-author of the new study. The research team found that butterflyfish dispersed further than clownfish, averaging distances of 43-64 kilometers before settling into their new habitats. Credit: Simon Thorrold, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

When the scientists returned to the lab, they used DNA parentage analysis, a sequencing technique that allowed them to match the juveniles up with their parents based on the DNA samples and spawning and settlement location data. From that, they were able to determine that most of the juvenile clownfish stayed relatively close to home, settling at mean distances of 10-15 kilometers from their natal reefs. The butterflyfish dispersed further, averaging distances of 43-64 kilometers before settling into their new habitats.

“Since we knew the respective locations of the adults and babies, we were able to come up with the exact linear distances that the larvae had dispersed. We’re no longer talking about estimates,” said Thorrold.

Benefits beyond design

In addition to helping inform the design of protected areas, the measurements can help to test the ability of reserves to perform key conservation functions. For example, one way a marine reserve network may improve fish population sustainability is through the so-called “rescue effect.” In theory, if fish in a reserve suffer catastrophic mortality, the reserve can be repopulated by larvae from other reserves within the network. Thorrold and colleagues were able to track larvae from one reserve to another in the study area, confirming that rescue effect is likely to occur in real-world reserve networks.

The dispersal measurements could also allow fisheries managers to monitor the effectiveness of existing reserves, helping answer the question of whether or not a particular reserve is contributing to fish populations beyond its boundaries. This, according to Thorrold, has been a big unknown.

“If you can trace larvae from one reserve to a place that’s fished, you can come up with a direct measure of how many fish the reserve is contributing to exploited populations beyond the reserve,” he said. “This helps when trying to convince fishermen that networks of marine reserves are a good management tool.”

Future work

According to Thorrold, as coral reef seascapes continue to face pressure from man-made stressors, marine reserves will continue to serve as an important conservation management tool. As such, it will become increasingly important to be able to provide direct measurements of larval dispersal, and find ways to apply the information to other regions of the ocean.

“The next thing we are working on is developing a coupled bio-physical model of the area that will allow us to take the results from this study and generalize them to other coral reef seascapes around the world,” he said. “Limited resources for ocean management, particularly in the developing world, means that we need to maximize the chances of successful conservation outcomes from these efforts. These types of scientific insights will be critical for ongoing efforts to promote resilience of coral reef ecosystems in the face of human exploitation and climate change.”

Explore further: DNA evidence shows that marine reserves help to sustain fisheries

Diving for Coral Conservation

The town of Chichiriviche de la Costa is a small gem on the Venezuelan coastline, set in a tranquil bay where a freshwater river runs through the mountains and empties into the sea. The locals live in the hills just above the beach, consisting of a few hundred people whose income is derived from fishing and local tourism opportunities. Coral reefs live on both sides of the bay, accompanied by a wide diversity of marine life. A variety of medusa and sea sponges frequently attract Hawksbill sea turtles which are commonly found feeding on the beach. Upwellings occur twice a year, providing important phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms which entice various species of sardines and herring. In turn, cetaceans and whale sharks are commonly seen during September through March each year. Unique marine life including frogfish, sea horses, crustaceans, nudibranks, mollusks, sea cucumbers, crinoids, sea stars, anemones, tunicates, clams, oysters, and sea urchins are also common to Chichiriviche’s waters. Not surprisingly, the bay and nearby coastline are excellent for scuba diving and snorkeling, with easy access from the beach.


The unparalleled beauty and vibrant sea life of Chichiriviche continue to draw crowds of beach-goers and marine enthusiasts to its coastline. However, short-term visitors have little awareness of the importance in preserving the beach and ocean environment, resulting in negligence and pollution. Venezuelans traveling from Caracas, a mere two-hour drive from Chichiriviche vacation right on the beach and unknowingly interfere with marine life. For example, the bay is a vital nesting site for turtles but with the increase in beach activity, lights and noise, their presence has greatly diminished. Coral reef species like Acropora palmata are critically endangered due to the impacts of rising sea temperatures and the river discharging contaminants into the ocean.

Interest in diving, in particular, has led to the opening of two scuba diving schools. The scuba divers are passionate about their local marine flora and fauna and work with the local community to become better stewards of their environment. However, inexperienced scuba divers with poor buoyancy control break the few surviving corals.

BIOSub is a group of Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) students blending marine science and conservation with underwater activities (SCUBA diving, freediving, spearfishing), while supporting biological research projects. BIOSub in collaboration with CECOBIO, both extension groups from UCV’s Faculty of Science, are currently designing a conservation project aiming to improve the general value of Chichiriviche’s coral ecosystem. Rubén Niño is currently studying Biology at UCV and fell in love with coral reef freediving. Working at one of Chichiriviche’s local dive centers has given him a unique perspective on coral reef ecosystems underwater and local activities on land. One of his goals is designing sustainable fishing techniques while educating locals, divers and tourists to become more aware of the environment and in turn, care about it. He remarks;

“Many experienced divers say Chichiriviche’s coral population has diminished dramatically in time from a combination of environmental conditions and irresponsible fishing and diving. If we don’t act now, all of those beautiful dive sites will be gone in the near future, but we still have time. Education is the key to conservation.”

Strength in Awareness 

The connectivity of Hope Spots has remarkably established an important link with Choroni, a neighboring community, also a Mission Blue Hope Spot. Marco Caputo, a Marine Biologist from Choroni joined forces with a conservationist from Chichiriviche, Gabriela Chirinos, to educate their residents about the Hope Spot. The two experts led a lively discussion on their collaboration with Mission Blue, Choroni’s successful sea turtle project, and a discourse on coral reefs. Hosting the event at a dive school garnered interest from over 30 people including members of the National Guard. The outcome resulted in future plans for local residents to become more involved in their Hope Spot while strengthening relationships with the diving community.

BIOsub, in particular, is leading efforts in coral and algae research, beach clean-up activities, and training and educating locals about diving. Exciting plans are also underway for a Reef Check representative to train a team of local divers on how to monitor their reefs through data collection and surveys.

Gregg Magrane, one of Chichiriviche’s Hope Spot champions exclaims;

“Conservation is a strategy for sustainability and generational justice, namely a sense of fairness for future generations. In our conservation efforts, we are in the process of increasing the consciousness of the tourists, divers, fishermen and local inhabitants. We feel making everyone aware is the best way to ensure the environment is not destroyed. Our Hope Spot nominations have given us concrete foundations to go forward with this ideal and with preserving healthy marine environments for Choroni and Chuao and Chichiriviche de le Costa.”

The best undiscovered beaches in the world

A certain type of New Yorker has complaints about the beaches in Tulum, Mexico, Saint Barth’s, or Mykonos in Greece. “Why escape New York,” they ask,”just to be surrounded by New Yorkers?”

Do not hang out with these people.

But do heed their warning: If you want to go to a beach to get away from other humans, you’ll have to try a lot harder than visiting those popular, luxurious, seaside spots. At the six under-the-radar destinations listed below, you won’t know a soul anywhere in a hundred-mile radius-and the locals will make you feel like one of their own. Not just that: These untrammeled landscapes are postcard-perfect, free of photo-bombing tourists and full of secret coves just waiting for you to discover them. As icing on the cake, they’re all within close proximity to places you already know and love.

Time’s ticking, though. These spots won’t stay secret much longer.

You’ve done Mykonos … now try Zakynthos

Tired of looking at Mykonos’s beautiful windmills? Never. But maybe you’re ready to swap out the thumping social scene for something more laid-back. Head to the Ionian island of Zakynthos, a little-explored paradise where secret, pearlescent coves are hidden from plain sight by towering limestone bluffs.

The western and northern sides of the island are the quietest and most beautiful-and the latter is where you’ll find the stone-walled Porto Zante Villas and Spa, which Greece expert Mina Agnos, president of Travelive, says offers an unsurpassed experience. “Each villa has panoramic views, a private, heated swimming pool, and access to a private section of beach,” she said. Other island draws: the neon-blue Shipwreck Beach (named for a destroyed vessel that still sits on the sand), endangered Caretta Caretta (loggerhead) sea turtles, and plenty of yacht charters for a day of Ionian beach-hopping.

You’ve done Saint Barth … now try Sint Eustatius

Not every place that Christopher Columbus discovered was put on the global map. Case in point: Sint Eustatius, one of the most under-the-radar islands in the resort-rich Caribbean, which the famed explorer first documented in 1493. Little has been said about it since then. Its sole city, Oranjestad, is known as the “smallest capital in the world,” and the entire island has a population of just 3,183.

But Statia, as it’s known, is just a short puddle-hopper flight from Sint Maarten, and scuba diving expert Robert Becker, of ProTravel, considers it one of his all-time favorite places. “There’s no mega-tourism, and most people don’t even know it’s there,” he said. “It’s got great hiking and lots of gorgeous tropical foliage, plus very welcoming people who have a genuine desire to know that you’re enjoying your stay.” Bunk up at the Dutch colonial-style Old Gin House, where Becker says you’ll feel like you’re staying with family friends, and pack goggles: The island is ringed by a national marine park, with impeccably-protected coral reefs and tropical fish stocks.

You’ve done Punta del Este, Uruguay … now try Mancora, Peru

“This beach is popular with locals, but few Western visitors have discovered it,” said Ashish Sanghrajka, Latin America enthusiast and president of Big Five Tours. That’s because most travelers to Peru head inland to the Sacred Valley, rather than up the coast. That’s a big mistake.

Not only does Sanghrajka say that the beach town of Mancora-close to the border of Ecuador and a four-hour flight from Lima-has “some of the best banana board surfing in Latin America.” It’s also home to a stunning nine-room resort, Kichic. Nearby, at Túcume, you can still accomplish some of that requisite Peruvian ruin-spotting; the adobe complex is nearly a thousand years old. And soon enough, the country’s luxury resort standard setter, Inkaterra, will open a beach retreat in the vicinity-in a fishing town that inspired Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

You’ve done the Maldives … now try India’s Andamans

You’ll see nobody else on the beaches of India’s Andaman Islands, said Black Tomato co-founder Tom Marchant, except for the occasional elephant. That should be selling point enough. (Who doesn’t love elephants?) But the Andamans have even more going for them: Some of the world’s best scuba diving, easy access via suddenly trendy Calcutta, and its first-ever five-star stay, Jalakara. “Now is the time to see these pristine islands before more people get wind of them,” Marchant told Bloomberg. “They’re a haven of natural beauty, a contrast to the bustling mainland and a relaxed alternative to the Maldives and Mauritius.”

You’ve done Ibiza … now try coastal Portugal

Portugal’s tourism mojo has skyrocketed in the last year, luring many to its romantic cities and dreamy wine valleys, but its rugged beaches have yet to experience the boom. According to Virginia Irurita, who specializes in custom trips to the Iberian peninsula, there “are no unexplored beaches left in Spain,” but several spots along the Portuguese coast are still “wild, beautiful, and empty.” Take Odeceixe (pronounced udd-sesh): It’s set at the juncture of the Atlantic Ocean and the tightly-coiled Ceixe River, which separates the Algarve from Alentejo.

There, you’ll find pristine beaches between the river’s curled banks as welol as on the quartz-lined ocean coast-so many of them that you can kayak from one to the next, looking for resident otters or places to avoid human contact. The crowds are thin, in part because there are no luxury hotels. One exception: Herdade do Touril, an affordable boutique bolthole with direct beach access. It’s far more stylish and hospitable than its 100 euro per-night price point would let on.

You’ve done Zanzibar … now try Likoma Island, Malawi

Alex Malcolm, founder and managing director of Jacada Travel, says off-the-beaten-path Likoma Island on Lake Malawi “should be considered a ‘world’s-best beach,'” both for its “current-free, crystal-clear waters” and its vibrant cultural draws: The island is dotted with fishing villages along its shorelines.

Stay at Kaya Mawa Resort, he told us, where “each room was individually designed in partnership with a local workshop set up to empower single mothers, and the whole staff comes from neighboring villages,” for a mix of social consciousness, authenticity, and intimacy. How to get there? Fly to Johannesburg first, then onto Lilongwe, Malawi, where a light aircraft can take you to Likoma Island. It’s a hike-but worth the commitment.

AirBuddy is the smallest and lightest dive gear ever created – Digital Trends

Why it matters to you

This lightweight and compact dive system doesn’t require a tank and can be carried with you anywhere you want to go.

If you’ve always wanted to try scuba diving but have been put off by the high cost of gear and the prolonged certification process, a new Kickstarter campaign just might be a dream come true. The AirBuddy, which launched today on the crowdfunding site, promises to deliver a full diving experience that offers the ease and simplicity of snorkeling, making it more accessible to everyone.

Weighing in at just 17.2 pounds, the AirBuddy claims to be the smallest and lightest dive gear ever created. The unit is able to cut a considerable amount of weight by doing away with a traditional scuba tank altogether. Instead it employs a unique design, which includes an air compressor that floats on the surface above the diver, pumping fresh air through a flexible tube that is connected to a mouthpiece regulator. The device can reportedly run for up to 45 minutes on its rechargeable battery, allowing the diver to descend as far as 40 feet below the surface without being encumbered by heavy equipment in any way.

The designers of the AirBuddy are quick to point out that their gadget bridges the gap between snorkeling and scuba, delivering some of the best elements of both activities. For example, because the device is so lightweight compared to traditional dive gear, users can take it with them just about anywhere, allowing for more spontaneous adventures. And while renting and refilling a scuba tank can cost upward of $50 each time you want to use it, the AirBuddy only needs to recharge its batteries between dives. And unlike snorkeling, which keeps you relatively close to the surface most of the time, this device actually allows divers to stay submerged for extended periods of time. Best of all, the AirBuddy doesn’t require any kind of scuba certification to begin using it either.

Built specifically with reef diving in mind, the AirBuddy can be put to use in other ways too. For instance, it is a great option for dive training, as well as performing routine maintenance on a boat. Underwater photographers will also appreciate its ease of use and quick set-up time, allowing them to get in and out of the water quickly to capture a shot. The device will also likely prove very popular with beach resorts, which can offer guests an affordable and safe alternative to a traditional scuba experience. The AirBuddy can even be shared by two users at the same time with a reduced dive depth, or two units can be used in tandem as well.

The team behind the AirBuddy are hoping to raise about $128,000 to get the device into production. If successful, it is expected to ship in June of 2018 with a price tag of about $1,400. Early bird Kickstarter supporters can order one now for just $983 however, which makes the initial investment about on par with good scuba gear and lessons. The savings comes later on tank rentals and refills.


Afraid of Shark Attacks?

About 100 years ago, the general consensus was that sharks couldn’t kill people. Really: The historian Al Savolaine says scientists and doctors believed sharks’ jaws and teeth weren’t strong enough to break human bone.

Then came the summer of 1916.

Over the course of 12 days, there were six shark attacks along the New Jersey coast, and they contributed to a fear of sharks that has permeated our culture ever since.

Savolaine is a historian in one of the towns where there were attacks: Matawan, New Jersey. He says when the first attack happened, people thought it might have been perpetrated by a giant sea turtle.

That first attack happened on July 1, 1916, to a swimmer off Beach Haven, New Jersey. Just like in the movie that would build our shark obsession — 1975’s “Jaws” — officials “didn’t want to hurt local tourism, so they didn’t advertise it,” Savolaine said.

The series of attacks ended with another scene reminiscent of “Jaws,” except even more unlikely, because it took place in Matawan, which is 1.5 miles off the ocean. Savolaine says the shark swam up a tidal river and attacked one young boy in a group who were skinny dipping. The other boys ran naked through the town calling for help, and a group went down to the river to investigate.

Watson Stanley Fisher, 24, dove in, found the boy’s body, but then was attacked by the shark as well.

At the end of the 12-day streak, four people had died.

“This started the cultural fascination with shark attacks,” Savolaine said.

But after the attacks, interest in sharks eventually waned.

“Time passes and people get less concerned,” he said. “What really got people interested was the novel “Jaws” and the movie the following year. After that, a lot of people were afraid to go out in the ocean. And that got people thinking about sharks, so then they remembered that brutal shark attack in 1916 along the Jersey Shore. People started looking back and researching and it stimulated interest.”

Universal Pictures/Getty Images

It’s an interest that has held steady ever since. Rationally, however, the fear of sharks makes little sense, says David Ropeik, an expert on risk analysis and Harvard professor. He likes to point out that more people are attacked by cows than sharks.

“We take daily risks all the time, we cross the street, we use a cellphone when we drive, we have unprotected sex,” he said. “Our brain doesn’t even do a risk analysis, you just think, ‘Oh that won’t happen to me.’ You don’t wake up in the morning and think, ‘I’ll fall out of bed and hit my head.’”

That’s what Ropeik calls “optimism bias,” where the risk is far off in the distance and “we tell ourselves if we think about it at all, that won’t happen to me.”

But shark attacks don’t usually fall under the “optimism bias” category, he said. Maybe when someone first books a beach vacation, he isn’t thinking a shark attack could happen. But once he’s standing in the sand, ready to set foot in the water, “optimism bias changes to something called loss aversion, where we over weigh the downside of possibilities,” Ropeik said.

“It’s easy to be optimistic when it’s off in the future, but now your butt is on the line, now you could die, and we revert to caution,” he said. “I know I probably won’t get eaten by shark, but it would be really bad if I do, so statistics go out the window.”

Other factors that play into our irrational fear of sharks are that we dread the pain and suffering that would come with dying by a shark attack.

“The more pain and suffering along the way to getting to being dead, the scarier it is,” he said. And there’s the lack of control we feel over when a shark might strike.

“You’re on the surface of the water and it’s dark under there, you can’t see, and not knowing is powerlessness,” Ropeik said. Even if you’re scuba diving or snorkeling in clear water, he said you know a shark can swim faster than you, so you still don’t feel in control.

Ropeik also says media coverage of shark attacks is to thank for our continued obsession. He calls that “availability awareness,” meaning “the more it’s on our radar screen, the more prominence it holds on our risk radar.”

As a former television producer, he understands that rare and violent stories get more attention and media outlets know people will pay more attention to “stories about the possibility of our death.”

But, he said, there’s a downside to the overexposure. When our brains are saturated with fears about unlikely things such as shark attacks, we don’t pay as much attention to safety precautions we actually should follow — like wearing sunscreen, for example.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

“What we are aware of either from personal experience or the media is what fills up our risk radar screen, which has only so much room on it,” Ropeik said. “So when there are lots of stories about sharks, that’s going to grab up room that could have gone to something else.”

There’s another downside to the shark obsession, said James Sulikowski, a professor in the Marine Science Department at the University of New England. That is that historically, people have been less interested in the conservation of sharks because they’ve been portrayed as villains.

“Most people don’t understand sharks are like us, they grow slowly, live long lives and have very few offspring, so they’re very susceptible to fishing pressure,” he said.

However, that’s changing, Sulikowski says. Science has made people aware of how important sharks are to the entire marine ecosystem and has made them care more about protecting them.

Still, he says sharks are fighting a battle other threatened species don’t have to fight: negative publicity.

“We still need to keep getting the importance of sharks out because every time there’s a shark attack, everyone freaks out,” he said.

He hopes people can “take a step back and think about what the statistics really are.”

For example, he said, you’re more likely to be bitten by another person on a New York City subway than be bitten by a shark.

Great Barrier Reef NOT DEAD! – Yet

At about the same moment that millions of Americans sat staring at their television or laptop or phone—watching the results from the presidential election stream in, seeing state after state called for Donald Trump—Kim Cobb was SCUBA diving near the center of the Pacific Ocean. She did not watch the same trickle of news as other Americans. She surfaced, heard the results, and dove in the water again. She was, after all, attending to devastation.Cobb is a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology. On November 8, she was on her most recent of many research trips to Kiritimati Island reef, the largest coral atoll in the world. (Kirimati is pronounced like Christmas.) She first began studying the reef in 1997, during the last big El Niño warming event; she has returned nearly every year since. Last year, she went three times.“We had been waiting for the big one. And boy… did it happen,” she told me earlier this year. “It really rolled out at an unprecedented magnitude. This particular El Niño event had its maximum temperature loading almost in a bulls-eye almost around Kirimati Island.”

By any measure, its caused a cataclysm. Eighty-five percent of the corals in the reef died: They will never recover, disintegrating into sand over the next several years. Two-thirds of the surviving corals bleached in some way, meaning they did not reproduce and may have sustained long-term damage.“Almost none of this reef has made it through 2015 and 2016,” Cobb said, calling the event “the wholesale destruction of the reef.”By any measure, 2016 was not a good year for coral reefs. El Niño raised ocean temperatures worldwide, devastating corals the world over. The Great Barrier Reef—the sprawling system off the coast of Australia, and among the world’s  most biodiverse reef systems—suffered a particularly debilitating year. Miles and miles of the coral reef bleached so severely, and for so long, that they died.

On Monday, news broke that it happened again. For the second year in a row, warm ocean temperatures are bleaching the Great Barrier Reef. The white splotches of ocean floor indicative of the phenomenon run even farther south—some 500 kilometers—than they did last year. The bleaching occurred even though there is no worldwide El Niño this year: The reef is ailed not by a rare climatic phenomenon but by the baseline warming of the oceans.

Until this decade, back-to-back bleaching events like that simply didn’t happen.

“It’s new. It is so new. It’s a complete change in the phenomenon that all of us study,” said Ruth Gates, a professor at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and the president of the International Society for Reef Studies. “We knew that this day would come—we’ve been seeing the thermal-tolerance threshold for corals get closer and closer, and we knew it was pushing over the limit for coral survival.”

“There will now be years where it doesn’t take an El Niño event to reach the bleaching threshold. This is going to be statistically more likely in a warming world,” said Cobb.The intensity and duration of bleaching events is ultimately leading to a change in the study of coral reefs overall. Instead of focusing on reefs in situ, scientists are increasingly having to study how reefs recover from warming oceans and other forms of environmental disaster.“We are in a different moment with coral reefs right now. We’ve had this global insult on reefs. The choice now is to study recovery because that’s what we are doing, because that’s what we have to do,” said Gates.

The reef that Gates knows best—the coral reef in Kāne’ohe Bay, right next to the institute where she works—was one of the first in the world to suffer a back-to-back bleaching. In 2014, a warming Pacific pushed the Kāne’ohe Bay corals to warm; in 2015, the sea bleached them again. “We were not really expecting it to be a bleaching year then and we didn’t expect it to be a bleaching year the following year,” she told me.

Since then, she has been monitoring the health of the reef and watched it recover. Scientists still don’t know how repeated bleaching events—especially in back-to-back years—will affect the long-term health of a coral reef. Kāne’ohe Bay has recovered faster and more vigorously than Gates expected, but it is a considerably less biodiverse reef than the Great Barrier Reef. Much of Gates’ research focuses on expanding coral resilience between reefs. (There was a wonderful New Yorker profile on her work last year.)

Cobb, meanwhile, is organizing research into how Kirimati Island bounces back from the El Niño bleaching. Thankfully, Kirimati has been slightly cooler than normal over the last few months, and baby corals have already begun to sprout in the reef.  “We’ll see in out years as a team of climate scientists, ecologists, and oceanographers focus on this island,” she told me. “We plan on witnessing its recovery in its various stages and trying to see how it differs from the reef that was there before this event.”This represents another major step forward for the field. When Gates started her doctoral research in the 1980s, scientists were still beginning to understand that coral bleaching can occur in the first place. Now, they know it is triggered in large part by temperature changes.The devastation to coral reefs will continue as climate change runs apace.  The International Society for Reef Studies predicts that 90 percent of coral reefs worldwide will be at risk of destruction by 2050. (This stands out: Many really dire predictions of severe climate damage start after 2050.)

“We are just one species that are in line to be hit very heavily by climate change,” said Gates. “Coral reefs are in the front line but they’re telling us something very important.”

Glock Lionfish Fishing – AWESOME!

A monster lionfish measuring nearly 18 inches long set a new single-fish size record for the REEF Lionfish Derby series Saturday in Key Largo.

In the largest Key Largo Winter Lionfish Derby ever, 48 underwater hunters on 14 teams fanned out at dawn to remove 420 lionfish from Florida Keys waters in the one-day contest.

READ MORE: The lionfish: King of the ocean no more?

The winning team from the Islamorada Dive Center returned with 181 lionfish, which topped the previous Key Largo Winter Derby record (161 lionfish).

Also turning in big harvests in the fifth annual contest were runners-up Fancy Feast Killaz squad with 97 lionfish and the Lion Reapers with 97 of the unwanted invasive fish.


The team from Ocean Divers bagged the biggest lionfish, recorded at 452 millimeters. That’s “the largest lionfish that has ever been turned in at any official REEF Lionfish Derby,” said Emily Stokes, a lionfish-program staffer with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, based in Key Largo.

A researcher from the University of Pennsylvania attended the contest to examine and analyze the stomach contents of harvested lionfish, which are considered a major threat to native fish species including snapper and grouper, along with other reef fish.

Lionfish, a Pacific Ocean species, defend themselves with an array of venomous spines and have no significant natural predators in Atlantic waters. A lionfish will eat anything that fits in its mouth and can reproduce throughout the year.

Some reefs in the Bahamas have lost from 65 percent to 95 percent of the native fish to lionfish in a two-year period, Oregon State University biologist Stephanie Green reported.

“Regular removals and removal events such as derbies have been found to significantly reduce lionfish populations” at local reefs, Stokes said.

Samples of lionfish ceviche were given away at the Key Largo contest, hosted by Sharkey’s Pub & Galley, to promote awareness of lionfish as a tasty seafood treat.

Major sponsors for the REEF Winter Lionfish Derby includeed the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Florida Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, ZooKeeper and Divers Direct.


Sunscreen Lotion Damages Reefs

It’s a minefield trying to buy a sunscreen which doesn’t harm the sea life. Even those trumpeting their green credentials are not always free from harmful chemicals and components. You have to read the label very carefully. So what are the nasties of which scuba divers and snorkellers should be wary?


Nano particles are minute chemical substances, which are about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles are often used in sunscreens. They allow clear sunscreen which can be sprayed on. However, they produce significant amounts of hydrogen peroxide, a strong oxidizing agent that generates high levels of stress on reef-building corals and marine phytoplankton. They have also been shown to make sea urchin embryos more vulnerable to toxins.

You need to avoid nanoparticles if you are looking for a marine-friendly sunscreen.


A study by Dr Craig Downs published last year showed Oxybenzone (also known as Benzophenone-2 or BP-2) increased the rate of coral bleaching. Additionally, the chemical damages the coral’s dna, affecting their reproduction. If that wasn’t enough other effects are to make juvenile corals become grossly deformed and encase themselves with their own skeletons.

Octinoxate, Butylparaben, 4-Methylbenzylidene Camphor

Another study, this time by Roberto Danovaro et al, named butylparaben, octinoxate and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor as being harmful to reefs.

How Much of a Problem is it?

According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters reef areas annually. This does not spread out rapidly or evenly over the entire ocean, but concentrates on popular tourist sites. It is estimated that 90% of snorkellers and scuba divers are concentrated on 10% of the world’s reefs.

So which sunscreens can you use?

Look for ones without the ingredients mentioned above. Zinc oxide and Titanium dioxide are good as long as they are not in nano-format. A quick guide is whether the sunscreen is clear or not. If it is clear, or in a spray, it probably contains nano-particles.
If the ingredients state “uncoated” zinc oxide then these are larger particles (non-nano) and safe.

Some examples of sunscreens which less harmful to sea life are:
Badger Sunscreen Unscented
Lovea Natural Sunscreen Spray
Jason Sunbrellas
Bio Solis

Any others you’d recommend – let us know in the comments below.

References and Further Reading

Sunscreen nanoparticles harm sealife. SCUBA News 2015.

Downs, C.A., Kramarsky-Winter, E., Segal, R. et al. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol (2016) 70: 265. doi:10.1007/s00244-015-0227-7

Danovaro, Roberto; Bongiorni, Lucia; Corinaldesi, Cinzia; Giovannelli, Donato; Damiani, Elisabetta; et al. Environmental Health Perspectives; Research Triangle Park116.4 (Apr 2008): 441-7.

The impacts of sunscreen on coral reefs. National Park Service.


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