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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Calling All Reef Hands

Calling All Reef Hands

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, August 9, 2018/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, marine life, sustainability, art and design, environment, adventure , climate change

                                 Citizen-science Project  (credit: Virtual Reef Diver)

It is well known that reef ecosystems are is serious trouble here in the USA, the Caribbean, and around the world. It is estimated that 50% of Australia's Great Barrier Reef (GBR) has died since 2016 and Florida coral reefs are highly degraded. The causes include a toxic combo of el nino-induced ocean heat waves, runoff of agricultural chemical onto the reefs, soil siltation smothering reefs, and in the case of the GBR destruction by the predatory Crown-of-Thorns starfish that graze on coral.

However, coral restoration efforts are underway to assist recovery. Projects range from pure research, to involvement of 'citizen scientists' in marine data analysis, and to wildly creative underwater artistic endeavors. Each restoration project has its own unique characteristics and challenges but here are three examples worthy of wider attention:

1. Virtual Reef Diver:

Virtual Reef Diver is a citizen-science effort developed by the Australian Research Council for Coral Reef Studies in collaboration with other universities. It allows individuals working independently at home to take a virtual "dive" onto the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) by viewing photographic data visualized on their computer. People can explore a diversity of reef locations and classify displayed images as to their coral cover, sand, algae or sea grass, and other marine features. By using these extra viewers, the ARC expands its capability to quickly review reef data. According to the Queensland University of Technology's Knowledge to Innovation program, the user-generated databases will allow greatly expanded coverage of the Great Barrier Reef. The new citizen-science inputs also allow the researchers to receive crucial information in a timely manner that can be provided to reef managers with their limited staff.

2. NOAA's Coral Reef program:

here in America, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has several new initiatives under their Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP). The Agency uses a cross-disciplinary approach that addresses: the threats to coral ecosystems including overfishing and climate change (video below); focused reef research; education; the importance of "the coral economy" (video below); and media outreach. An infographics strategy combines all these efforts in a series of educational posters. NOAA actively works to build coral managerial capacity with 'hands-on' trainings efforts and technical assistance. They recognize the direct connections corals have to the lands and islands reefs surround and the communities and economies they support. Their research directly supports the application of ecosystem-based management.

Climate, Reefs, & Resilience:

The Coral Reef Economy

3. The Creators:

Artists are also lending a hand to extend understanding, appreciation, and conservation of coral ecosystems. The British artist Jason deCaires Taylor constructs massive underwater sculptures that act as artificial reefs as well as art installations. He created Ocean Atlas, a person-like form reaching from the sea floor to the ocean surface with palms outstretched, in the Bahamas. The 60-ton sculpture began as a computer-designed model. It was then constructed in sections that were collaboratively installed to produce the completed sculpture. A video shows this remarkable project that brings attention to reef conservation in the Caribbean. Currently, Taylor is constructing a coralarium in the Maldive Islands as a marine museum where island visitors can snorkel and dive through an 'eco-art' exhibit that corals will colonize.

Everyone would be diminished if coral reefs were to disappear from the oceans due to our air and water pollution abuses. Whether providing economic benefits, ecosystem services, wildlife habitat, or simple beauty and wonder, these "rainforests of the sea" need attention in ways both large and small. The insightful people involved in these examples are leading the way by applying their talents, creativity, and technology to produce practical results. It would be fun to become involved with them.



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