Not exactly the picture of vibrant reef…

Distressing

Meet a reef under stress, bleached and covered with brown algae. The reasons are varied and uncertain, but all have a central element: man.

The condition of this section of Minerva’s Ledge is likely due to some combination of warming waters, acidification and nutrient runoff. All three stress the ecosystem and the coral and favor the algae that is now killing the reef.

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Glorious, even on the verge of death

This reef won't last long

The reefs around South Button continue to bleach, thanks at least in part to human impacts such as acidification and climate change. It’s sad to think: If degraded reefs can support this much life, how much more are we missing by not taking care of these rain forests of the sea.

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Wart slug on ailing reef…

The reef be dying...

Reefs the world over are suffering, as warming water (and possibly other factors) disrupt their productive symbiosis with a specific protozoa, zooxanthella. Each relies on the other for nutrients and energy, and the protozoa also give hard coral blocks their color.

But when this is cycle is disrupted — again, mostly my warming waters due to global warming but also acidification — the corals can’t maintain this balance and typically expel their zooxanthellae. This leads to a bleached — white or light colored — reef, which is my experience is typically then recovered by a different algae, like we see above.

This whole imbalance also typically wipes out other sensitive populations. For example, in the Andamans, the fast-evolving delicate nudibranchs have all but disappeared according to environmentalists and the dive community. When I was diving there, only the varicose wart slugs (above) were left.

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Coral reef under threat

Sad reef

The dying Lighthouse reef of Havelock Island typifies shallow water reefs the world over. The ecosystem is collapsing.

So-called bleached coral looses its color as the symbiotic relationship with a protozoa fails. As the coral stop growing and eventually die, the myriad species that survive around them move or diminish. Frequently, it seems the corals are left to the whims of algae.

Scientists say coral bleaching is caused by a variety of factors stressing the coral (which are actually tiny creatures that build magnificent skeletons) and disrupting the symbiosis. Global warming, acidification, human waste, harmful fishing habits and more are all very real human impacts on these rain forests of the sea.

This underwater rainforest is all but gone

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Goodbye healthy reef

Deep blue Dixon's Pinnacle

About 100 feet beneath the ocean several miles off Havelock Island is a picture of what is fast disappearing: healthy reef.

Coral ecosystems — the rain forests of the ocean, as it were — are fading and collapsing in the face of global warming, coral bleaching, overfishing, agricultural runoff, human waste pollution, the list goes on.

We can congratulate ourselves for mucking about too much.

If you’re interested in knowing more, I encourage you to check out the research and conclusions from International Programme on the State of the Ocean.

I don’t mean to be preachy, but this particular slice of the environment is something I’m dedicating my life to. So, in my world view, it’s too damn important to not talk about.

More life than you can shake a stick at

Fish and more be everywhere

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