Teaming with and fighting for life

Soft coral at Dixon's Pinnacle

Soft coral at Dixon’s Pinnacle, though protected by its depth and temperature, remains under serious threat like much of the world’s coral as seas warm and acidify. This is a picture of what mankind may very well be pushing out of existence.

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I’m still amazed by truly healthy coral

Hanging off of Dixon's Pinnacle

After a week in Costa Rica and Panama and several days diving in silty, sediment-filled water, it’s almost refreshing to look back at clear blue underwater at Dixon’s near Havelock.

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Not exactly the picture of vibrant reef…


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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I’m thankful for wild spaces and so much more

Tomato clown

I have a lot to be thankful for: people I love, the direction of my life, numerous opportunities and wild spaces like this anemone+tomato clown.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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How far would you swim off the drop off…

Pseudo wall at South Button

South Button is essentially a knob of rock sticking out of the ocean. Part of it features something of a drop-off that heads down far deeper than humans safely dive with needing decompression time.

It makes for fantastic diving, however, as there are cracks, semi-caves, overhangs and walls to dive along. And all harbor immense amounts of life.

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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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What’s the value to a healthy reef?

How much would you pay?

My first (short) paper of graduate school is due Wednesday. I am valuing an environmental amenity. Not surprisingly, I’ve chosen coral reefs. And specifically, the coral reefs of Havelock.

Above, we see a somewhat healthy reef at South Button. What’s its value? For fishing? For tourism and recreation? For biodiversity? For coastal protection?

Does it have intrinsic value, beyond any use or option-to-use value?

And just how do we determine these values? What methods or metrics?

These are the questions I’m answering in my paper at present.

And must everything be translated into dollar amounts? (Short, unfortunate but practical answer to that last question is yes, if we’re going to make policy recommendations for preservation.)

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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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I’m funny how? I mean, funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you?

Yes, you are amusing

Clownfish. Defensive, angry little clownfish.

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Coral macro

Blue phase

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