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MarineBio Newsletter 8

MarineBio is pleased to bring you the 8th edition of our newsletter! We welcome your feedback we would love to hear what you're interested in reading! Send your comments to:

What's New?

Featured Species: Corals!

Coral reefs are one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems in the ocean - and on Earth. They are found throughout the world in shallow, tropical waters although they are decreasing at an alarming rate due to environmental stressors and human activity. According to NASA, up to 27% of the world's coral reefs have already been lost and scientists estimate that another 50-60% could be lost in the next 25 years if nothing is done to change current trends, particularly global warming. Fortunately, the world’s coral reefs are being closely monitored and new technologies are emerging to protect and possibly restore them.

Coral reefs are important to both the ocean and to humans of a number of reasons. They fix carbon dioxide (CO2) from the water into limestone, which is essential to reducing the amount of CO2 in the ocean. They provide food and shelter for an enormous variety of fish and invertebrates—often called the rainforests of the sea, coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on this planet. They protect shores from erosion by forming offshore barriers, they provide important biomedical compounds for antimicrobial and antiviral medicines used in pharmaceutical research, and they are an endless source of fascination for SCUBA divers and snorkelers.

The three main types of coral reefs are fringing reefs, barrier reefs, and atolls. Fringing reefs are found close to shore and are separated from the coast by a shallow water channel or lagoon. They are usually fairly narrow and recently formed. Fringing reefs are often surrounded by more isolated patch reefs. The largest reef systems are barrier reefs found farther offshore. They are separated from land by a large, deep channel and have been developing over millions of years. Atolls are rings of coral surrounding a deep lagoon. Atolls are most commonly found in the Indian and Pacific oceans located far offshore and surrounded by deep water. They are formed as volcanic islands sink. The lagoon is formed when the cone of the volcano is submerged and the coral atoll forms as the corals continue to grow over millions of years over the volcanic substrate.

The approximately 1,300 true stony coral species that have been classified can be identified by the distinguishing features of their corallites, or individual polyp skeletons. Though some coral species can be reliably identified by their colony form, such as Elkhorn coral, others can only be definitively identified by their skeletal structure. Corals often resemble plants, but they are actually marine invertebrates. Coral reefs are formed by the limestone skeletons of former and living coral colonies. The living hard corals that cover reefs are complex ecosystems often consisting of tens of thousands of coral polyps. Most hard coral polyps are not visible during daylight hours, but at night they emerge from their skeletons to feed when zooplankton are more abundant in the water. This suspension feeding lets corals capture prey by shooting tiny harpoon-like nematocysts into the zooplankton that happens to touch their tentacles. The corals then pull their prey into their mouths or sweep it into their mouths using cilia (tiny hair-like structures) on their ectodermis (outer layer) using a conveyor belt-like motion.

Despite the carnivorous tendencies of coral polyps at night, their primary source of nutrition is provided by their zooxanthellae (zoe-zan-thelly), symbiotic unicellular algae that reside inside the gastrodermis (a layer of cells just under the ectodermis) of reef-building hard corals which provide food through photosynthesis. Zooxanthellae are commonly dinoflagellate algae, and some are diatoms. They are acquired through ingestion and once inside the coral they multiply in the tissues of their coral host.

The presence of zooxanthellae inside the coral represents an endosymbiotic relationship, one characterized by mutualism in which each organism benefits by the presence of the other. This ancient relationship between an animal and a plant is a remarkable phenomenon only recently discovered by science. Zooxanthellae help the coral grow faster by using the coral’s metabolic waste products, such as ammonia, which frees up the coral's energy so that it can grow faster. The zooxanthellae benefit by a constant source of nutrients, by protection from predators, and by inhabiting the corals, they are provided with a stable environment with exposure to the sunlight that they need for photosynthesis.

The beauty of hard corals masks their aggressive survival instinct and behaviors befitting only the most vicious predators in the sea. Competition for space, sunlight, and food among reef-building corals is fierce. The structure of a coral reef can be compared to the canopy of a rainforest where the branched coral polyps are spread out like the treetops to maximize their exposure to sunlight. This tendency to spread is also a competitive strategy to known as "overtopping," where faster growing species displace their neighbors blocking them from sunlight and food. The slower growing species have their own strategies, however. They defend themselves by extending their nematocysts to attack and kill the polyps of other species. They also extend long filaments of their digestive system onto neighboring polyps of other species effectively digesting and dissolving them until only their skeleton remains.

These ancient, colorful, vibrant, captivating and biologically rich ecosystems are one of the planet's greatest treasures—and they are in trouble. Though they have survived for millennia, they are extremely delicate and sensitive to even slight changes to their environment.

Currently, global warming is probably the biggest threat to coral reefs but human activity is also a huge factor in their decline. As coastal development continues unabated, runoff and sedimentation causes enormous threats to coral health including algal overgrowth and sedimentation that smother the reefs and cause the zooxanthellae to expel, which causes coral bleaching. Another human factor causing coral reef destruction is cyanide fishing and dynamiting to capture live reef fish for the seafood and aquarium markets. Cyanide fishers squirt cyanide into coral reefs stunning the fish to make them easier to catch. This poison kills corals and other reef organisms. Dynamiting the reefs to startle the fish out of their shelter is also used, which destroys the reef leaving nothing but a pile of rubble. In addition to fish harvesting, reefs are also harvested for limestone, jewelry, calcium supplements, and corals for salt water aquariums.

The greatest threat facing coral reefs, however is human-induced climate change via global warming which is causing increasing sea surface temperatures, sea levels, and severe storms. Corals prefer shallow, tropical waters, but when the water gets too warm the zooxanthellae are expelled leaving the white tissues of the corals exposed. This is known as coral bleaching and if the sea surface temperatures do not cool in time, the corals die due to starvation. Rising sea surface temperatures has caused widespread coral mortality during the last 10 years, and more is expected. In 1998, increased temperatures during the El Niño event caused massive bleaching worldwide. 2002 was the second worst year after 1998 and 2005 is looking like it may be the 3rd runner up. The good news is, there is still time to protect coral reefs from further damage and much work is being done already. The world's coral reefs are being closely monitored both by underwater monitoring and through satellite imaging technology. Groups such as the Global Coral Reef Alliance, the Coral Reef Alliance, the International Coral Reef Action Network, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, the International Coral Reef Initiative, Reef Relief, and others are taking action to ensure the future of the world's coral reefs. You can take action too by supporting global warming solutions and by avoiding: products derived from coral reef harvesting, consumption of reef fish, purchasing live captured reef fish for aquariums, and diving with operations that do not encourage diving responsibly. If you live in a coastal community you can also encourage local politicians to develop strong pollution control and coastal management policies for development.

With enough effort to protect and monitor coral reefs, they will hopefully continue to survive for millennia to come.

Issues in Marine Conservation: Human Impact on Climate Change

Global warming is no longer a controversy—it is an indisputable fact and one that is thankfully gaining increasing attention in the media and therefore with the general public. Overwhelming scientific observation has shown that the atmosphere near the Earth's surface is warming and, based on considerable data it is due to human activities. We now also know that the speed and intensity of global warming is increasing and will continue to increase unless strong measure are taken to prevent or at least slow it. According to Ross Gelbspan author of "Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists and Activists are Fueling the Climate Crisis—And What We Can Do to Avert Disaster", Ross claims that we need to cut the global consumption of coal and oil by 70 percent asap if we are to stop global warming.

What is global warming and what causes it?

Global warming is the increase of the average temperature in the atmosphere and oceans over time. The term global warming is often used interchangeably with climate change, however the latter refers to changes in climate through natural processes with no single identifiable cause. Global warming is caused primarily by human activities such as coal-burning power plants, automobile exhaust, factory smokestacks, and other waste-producing processes. These sources contribute about 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide (6 billion tons of pure carbon) and other greenhouse gases into the earth's atmosphere each year. CO2 levels have increased by about 31% since 1750, about 75% of which can be attributed to fossil fuel burning. The remaining 25% is largely due to land-use change, particularly deforestation. Normal levels of CO2 keep the planet warm, but when they exceed normal levels, they create the "greenhouse gas" effect because they trap heat from the sun that would otherwise be radiated back into space.

Just how hot will it get?

Current models predict that the Earth's temperatures will increase by 1.4-5.8°C (2.5-10.4°F) between 1990-2100. But there is harder evidence than computer models. Current trends such as decreased snowfall, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, changes to precipitation levels and patterns, severe weather, increasing species loss due to habitat changes, and coral bleaching all indicate the warming of the planet is real and that it's not a future event—it's happening now. During the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change it was stated that "An increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a warming world and other changes in the climate system." The data exist that prove that our planet is warming, and though the computer models can make predictions, the future is still uncertain. Gelbspan likens the future to gambling blindfolded, "Our climate is capable of immense and wildly disruptive surprises. Every day, those surprises seem progressively more likely than not. Not only are we gambling with our future, we are gambling with our eyes blindfolded. We can't even see the cards we've been dealt." In his book, he claims that "There is only one chance in 100 that the rate of warming will be less than double the warming rate of the last 100 years—and a 99 percent probability that it will exceed double the past warming rate ...".

What are the implications for the ocean?

Increased temperatures in the ocean are causing harmful changes to ecosystems forcing some species, such as corals in a process known as "bleaching", to die or move out of their habitats, which may be leading to extinctions and decreased marine biodiversity. Sea levels are rising due to the expansion of sea water as it warms as well as the melting of vast ice reserves in the Arctic and Antarctic. A mere 1 mm increase in sea level translates to a shoreline advance of about 1.5 meters worldwide. Erosion narrows beaches and in some communities, such as the Tuvalu islands in the Pacific, communities are retreating inland as their homes are slowly submerged. Global warming will also impact ocean life and life on land by altering the ocean's circulatory patterns, the flow of surface currents, and local areas of upwelling and downwelling, which will affect nutrient and oxygen delivery over large areas.

What can be done?

First and foremost, the collective and political will needs to be developed so that both individuals and governments make sweeping changes to reduce CO2 emissions. The Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement developed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, is a good start and needs to be adopted by the US and Australia, although skeptics say that governments are underreporting their greenhouse gas emissions, which will negate the benefit of the Protocol. New technologies are needed to develop carbon-less energy sources and carbon-sequestering needs to be implemented on a worldwide scale, in our opinion. We need to follow Brazil's model and reduce dependence on foreign oil by using alternative fuels. Though big changes are needed, small changes help too. Individuals can help reduce energy consumption by utilizing home energy demands more efficiently. In the US, 21% of global warming pollution is contributed by home energy losses. There is no doubt we can solve this problem. There is still time. We have a moral obligation to solve it—we broke it, we need to fix it. Small changes to your daily routine can add up to big differences in helping to slow global warming and if we continue to pressure policymakers, the big changes will be made as well. Write your political representatives. Make noise. Spread the word. The time to come together to solve this problem is now—PLEASE TAKE ACTION TODAY.

For more information:

Current Research: Biorock® Technology

Biorock TechnologyBiorock® Technology – hope for coral reef restoration around the world
Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet yet they are also one of the most fragile ecosystems in the ocean. Though it is feasible that some of the problems causing coral reef destruction such as fishing with cyanide and dynamite can be stopped quickly if enough effort is made, other problems, such as global warming, are long-term and may not be reversed in time to save the reefs from dying.

Fortunately, the Biorock® Process is a unique technology that is being taught and implemented worldwide and has successfully restored damaged reefs, even in areas under stresses such as increased surface temperatures, pollution, and sedimentation. The Biorock® Process is a revolutionary mineral accretion technology that accelerates coral growth through the application of a safe, low-voltage electrical current through seawater to a metal structure, which causes minerals in seawater to crystallize onto the metal structure forming calcium carbonate white limestone structures similar to those produced by coral animals. Corals adhere to the newly formed limestone and these new Biorock® structures are quickly populated by the marine species that inhabit coral reefs such as fish, crustaceans, mollusks, sharks, and rays. Coral growth on these structures is accelerated because of the electrical current that creates optimal chemical conditions, a high pH on the surface of the limestone crystals and on the surface of the corals' limestone skeletons speeding their growth. Under normal circumstances, corals expend a lot of energy creating these chemical conditions, but because the mineral accretion provides the right conditions, the corals are free to use their energy to grow and reproduce.

The Biorock® Process is a cost-effective and extremely successful method of restoring damaged coral ecosystems and preventing further decline in areas where human and environmental stressors have caused extensive damage. Successful Biorock® projects can be found in: Indonesia, Jamaica, Maldives, Mexico, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Saya de Malha, Seychelles, Thailand, and Palau.

The Process was developed by Wolf Hilbertz and Dr. Tom Goreau, president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of volunteer scientists, divers, environmentalists and other individuals and organizations committed to coral reef preservation that use the Biorock® Process to build, restore, and maintain coral reefs.

The next Biorock® reef restoration workshop is being held in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia (see map below), November 13-20, 2006 and is open to anyone interested being trained in the design, construction, and monitoring of Biorock® structures, which can benefit dive operators, resort managers, conservation groups, coastal zone managers, fishing communities, marine scientists, etc.

Biorock® is a registered trademark of Biorock®, Inc. The Biorock® Process is owned by Biorock®, Inc. and licensed to the GCRA. To read more about the Biorock® Process visit the Global Coral Reef Alliance:

Special Feature: Interview with Andy Murch of

Carcharhinus plumbeus, Sandbar is a website filled with wonderful images of sharks, skates, rays, and chimaeras from around the world and information on shark: biology, diving, photography, conservation, etc. and it even has sections with shark books and documentaries/film reviews. The site began when its founder, Andy Murch, realized that a good field guide for diving with sharks and rays did not exist. After the site was launched in 2002 it evolved into a much larger project than originally planned. It now includes the "Sharkive" of more than a thousand shark and ray pictures as well as extensive information on all things elasmobranch, including fascinating stories about shark encounters.

Andy Murch is the site's founder. In addition to maintaining and updating, Andy is also a staff photographer for Shark Diver magazine and he is currently working on a new TV series that will air in 2007 called "Shark Diver" (Trailer I | Trailer II). His photographs have appeared in numerous other publications including scientific journals as well as popular magazines and online for the Smithsonian and National Geographic. Andy has also contributed a number of wonderful shark photos for MarineBio species home pages as well.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you got into shark photography. What inspired you to focus on sharks and rays?

I have always had a thirst for adventure which has led me to many of the more dangerous places around the world. I also have a compulsion to record the images I see especially underwater. Shark photography is a way for me to get my art and adrenalin fix at the same time. My fascination for rays stems from watching the way that they glide underwater. I find them incredibly graceful.

2. Describe one or more of the most memorable encounters you've had diving with sharks and rays.

I have dove with Whale Sharks many times but recently in Holbox, Mexico I had the chance to swim with one as it fed vertically at the surface. Even whale sharks tend to be shy but this one allowed me to take some unique images while it guzzled bucketfuls of plankton. Every now and then its eye would roll towards me and then it would return to its feast. It was amazing!

3. What is your favorite dive spot so far for shark or ray encounters?

That's a tough one but I think it has to be Australia. The sharks and rays there are extremely varied and colorful. On most dives it is possible to see reef sharks, crazy looking wobbegongs sharks, cat sharks, and many different types of rays including beautifully patterned stingarees. I have been there many times and I'm never disappointed.

4. Is there a destination you haven't yet visited but are planning to explore to photograph sharks or rays?

I am hoping to get lost in the Amazon at some point. I want to work my way up the different tributaries looking for the 40+ species of freshwater rays that live there. It will be a difficult and potentially dangerous trip but the opportunity to photograph the rainforest, the tribal culture and the elaborately patterned stingrays is too great an opportunity to pass up.

5. We try to promote awareness that sharks are not man-eating killing machines. In your experience, have you found that sharks are more gentle and shy than they are portrayed in the media?

I love watching bad shark movies in which the sharks attempt to devour everyone in sight. They're so far from the true nature of sharks that I find them hilarious. In reality the hardest part of my job is getting close to the animals. Sharks are petrified of people and except in certain rare circumstances they would like nothing more than to be left alone.

6. Can you describe a time when you encountered a particularly dangerous species and were surprised by the sharks reaction to your presence?

I got to see my first big Tiger Shark while I was photographing Great Hammerheads in the Bahamas. It materialized out of the fog as I was floating down the chum slick in pursuit of a "fleeing" 12ft hammerhead. I immediately started back pedaling towards the boat but it took one look at me and bolted. Since then I've had the same experience with many big sharks which has led me to realize how timid they really are.

7. What in your opinion can we, as individuals, do to protect sharks?

I think that boycotting restaurants that sell shark fin soup, avoiding supplements containing shark cartilage and never going shark fishing is a good start but that simply slows down the inevitable demise of shark and ray populations. Ultimately if we want them to survive (and many scientists believe that our own survival is intertwined with theirs) then the governing bodies that limit shark fishing have to grow some teeth before it is too late. Any time an individual has the opportunity to broach this subject with local politicians it helps a little more. If we can convince them that by championing this cause they will win votes then we will make progress. To do this we need many voices, so giving talks in schools, and educating friends and colleagues is critical.

8. The trailer for your upcoming TV series was amazing! Can you give us any more specific details such as where and when it will be aired?

Not yet. We're still negotiating to see who will produce Shark Divers. We have a new trailer which has generated a buzz with some of the big studios in LA so now we have to play the waiting game while they decide if it will fit with their programming. Shooting the pilot was a lot of fun. We spent a month on the road driving the Shark Bus around North America diving with shark fanatics everywhere we went.

9. You made a comment in the trailer (Trailer I | Trailer II) for your upcoming TV series: "I don't think we're crazy, we just love diving with sharks and we want to show the world the sharks while there are still some left." Do you believe that shark populations are decreasing at a rate fast enough that we risk losing them forever?

Sadly, there is no doubt in my mind that most shark populations are now critically depleted. The IUCN red list of endangered species lists new shark species each year. In the Gulf of Mexico Oceanic Whitetip Sharks have been reduced by an astounding 98% and on the west coast the Blue Shark eco tourism industry has closed its doors for good because the sharks that once showed up in their hundreds have almost completely disappeared.

10. What do you have planned for the future of

Obviously I want to continue adding shark and ray species to the database as I get the opportunity to photograph them. I would also like to develop a whole new area of the site that concentrates on extinct elasmobranchs. There are very few photographs of fossil sharks available on the web at present so I think that it will become a useful reference guide (invitations to photograph fossil collections would be most welcome!). Other plans include an expansion of the shark biology section (once I find the time to pen some anatomical drawings), some kind of search tool, and a public forum where people can talk sharks.

11. Anything else we haven't covered that you'd like to include?

I would be happy to hear from anyone who knows of dive sites or fishing sites where I can reliably find species of elasmobranchs that I have not yet covered, especially obscure species. There are some wonderful sharks and rays out there that I would like to be able to show people e.g. the strange looking Winghead Shark that lives in the turbid waters of northern Australia. It’s a never ending challenge but I hope that one day with the help of all the other shark fans I can fill in many more of the blanks.

The Sea Below ~ Upcoming Expedition :: Indonesia

David Campbell, Joni Lawrence, and Dr. James Wood are traveling to Indonesia now to shoot video and photos of the marine life there. Indonesia is the center of marine diversity renowned for its spectacular variety of some of the most amazing marine life on the planet including: Frogfish, Sea horses, Stargazers, Triple fins, Cuttlefish, Mimic octopus, Blue ringed octopus, Hairy octopus, and the elusive Coelacanth. This species was considered extinct since the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, but in 1938 a live specimen was discovered off the east coast of South Africa. Since then they have also been spotted off the coasts of Comoros, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar and Sulawesi, Indonesia.

To see photos of some of the spectacular marine life around Indonesia, visit our friends at Edge of Reef. We'll be back on Sept 14th and will post photos and videos of the expedition asap.

MarineBio Recommends

The Enchanted Braid: Coming to Term with Nature on the Coral ReefIn keeping with this issue's coral reefs theme, we highly recommend "The Enchanted Braid: Coming to Term with Nature on the Coral Reef" by Osha Gray Davidson. Davidson is a journalist who developed an appreciation for coral reefs during time spent in the Florida Keys. This informative book is accessible to laypeople and interesting for scientists. Davidson’s self-described "florid" prose paints a vivid picture of the beauty of coral reefs and he describes the problems facing coral reefs in an evocative and thought-provoking manner. He describes coral reefs as "the soul of the sea" and aptly describes their biology and importance to the ocean and to humankind. The book is simultaneously a travel narrative, scientific and environmental treatise, and philosophical look at why we need to take better care of coral reefs and other precious ecosystems. Though the messages in the book are clear that coral reefs are in trouble, Davidson's writing is not filled with gloom and doom and somber predictions of a coral-less ocean. Rather, he puts coral reefs in the context of survival and inspires hope for their future.

We also recently discovered an excellent resource for underwater photographers. Underwater Photography is a free online magazine filled with information on underwater camera equipment including new products and reviews, upcoming contests and workshops, interviews with well-known photographers, articles written by photographers sharing techniques and tips, reviews of the best dive locations for underwater photographers, and much more. We've spent hours reading back issues of the magazine and have learned a great deal. Highly recommended!

We hope you found this quarter's MarineBio Newsletter interesting. Click around for more species, more research and more Marine Biology News. As always, we welcome all feedback.

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