Marine biology discoveries off Western Australia


This video from Australia says about itself:

Deep-sea secrets of the cryptic Perth Canyon unveiled

15 March 2015

Scientists have completed a successful two-week mission unlocking the secrets of Perth Canyon, a deep ocean gorge the size of the USA’s Grand Canyon.

From LiveScience:

Huge Underwater Canyon Is Home to Amazing Deep-Sea Creatures

by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer | March 23, 2015 03:51pm ET

A two-week-long seafaring mission off the coast of western Australia has helped illuminate a deep and dark underwater abyss the size of the Grand Canyon.

During the trip to Perth Canyon, researchers encountered countless deep-sea organisms, including Venus flytrap anemones and golden coral. They even found a lost piece of equipment — an autonomous ocean glider that had gone missing two years earlier.

The scientists, from the University of Western Australia‘s Oceans Institute, began their mission on March 1 on the Falkor, a research vessel owned by an American nonprofit organization. Once aboard, they sailed about 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Fremantle, a city on the western Australian coast. They then used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore the underwater canyon, which extends from the continental shelf for more than 2.5 miles (4 km) to the ocean floor. [Marine Marvels: Spectacular Photos of Sea Creatures]

“We have discovered near-pristine, sheer-drop cliffs of over 600 meters [1,968 feet] and mapped structures that are rarely found in other parts of the ocean,” Malcolm McCulloch, the project’s leader and a professor of earth and the environment at the University of Western Australia, said in a statement. “It is truly a huge canyon.”

The canyon likely formed more than 100 million years ago, the researchers said. Back then, it appears that an ancient river cut the canyon during rifting that separated western Australia from India. Nowadays, the submerged canyon is a hotspot for marine life, attracting blue whales and other sea life in search of a tasty meal.

Researchers knew little about the canyon’s structure and the creatures that inhabited it until this expedition. Using the Falkor’s cutting-edge mapping systems and ROV, they explored Perth Canyon at depths of more than 1.2 miles (2 km). By the end of the mission, the research team had traveled more than 1,118 miles (1,800 km) to map the canyon’s 154 square miles (400 square km).

The canyon’s deepest point is 2.6 miles (4,276 m) below the ocean’s surface, McCulloch said.

“It is at a depth where light can’t penetrate, making a dark water column where there are no signs of light from above or below,” he said.

Still, the researchers found a surprisingly rich community of deep-sea creatures that cling to the canyon’s walls. For instance, about 1 mile (1.6 km) below the surface, they found brisingid seastars and mushroom soft corals. Other researchers have documented these animals living in Perth Canyon before, and now these creatures have been found in other deep-sea areas around the world.

The team also used the ROV to collect samples of the deep-sea corals. In the coming months, the scientists plan to determine the coral‘s age, how fast they grow, and whether global warming or ocean acidification has changed their habitat.

The work may also help other researchers, especially those who study deep-sea ecosystems and the factors that threaten survival in these places, they said.

During the project, the researchers also stumbled across an old piece of equipment — an autonomous ocean glider that went missing while it was exploring the canyon more than two years ago. When the team spotted the bright-yellow glider at a depth of about 0.4 miles (700 meters) underwater, everyone celebrated, said Chari Pattiaratchi, a professor of coastal oceanography at the University of Western Australia.

Next up, researchers will use the Falkor to test underwater robotic vehicles at Scott Reef, off the coast of northwestern Australia.

United States military base in Okinawa, Japan damages coral


This video is about diving at the coral reefs around Okinawa, Japan.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Japan: Onaga demands air base plans halted

Tuesday 24th March 2014

OKINAWA governor Takeshi Onaga instructed Japan’s Defence Ministry yesterday to suspend work at the proposed site of a US air base.

Mr Onaga claimed a concrete anchor thrown into the sea for a drilling survey of a reef at the designated site had damaged coral.

He took office four months ago after winning an election over a predecessor who had allowed the Henoko site to be developed to relocate the base.

Mr Onaga said the prefecture needed to conduct an independent survey to assess the damage and demanded the ministry stop activity in a week.

The central government’s effort to gain Okinawa’s understanding had been “insufficient,” he said.

But Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the survey should proceed regardless of the order.

The relocation is intended to address safety and nuisance concerns.

But Okinawans want the Futenma air base moved off the island completely and warn the construction would endanger marine life.

JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the governor of the southern island of Okinawa clashed yesterday over relocation of the controversial Futenma US air base: here.

‘No to US bases!’: Thousands march against military presence in Okinawa: here.

Octopus camouflage on coral reef, video


This video says about itself:

Amazing moment marine creature camouflages itself against a reef is captured on video

4 February 2015

Octopus shocks diver with its amazing camouflage skills

A diver was shocked to see an octopus emerge from the rocks during a dive in the Caribbean. Its amazing camouflage abilities meant it was barely visible before revealing itself.

Spot the octopus!

A new study has found that La Niña-like conditions – cooler sea temperatures, greater precipitation and stronger upwelling – in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Panamá were closely associated with an abrupt shutdown in coral reef growth that lasted 2,500 years: here.

Rare glimpse into how coral procreates could aid future conservation: here.

Will triton snails save Australia’s Great Barrier Reef?


This video from Hawaii is about a triton snail at Lanai lookout in Oahu eating a crown of thorns starfish.

From Wildlife Extra:

Giant snail the solution to Barrier Reef’s Crown-of-thorns problem?

Beautiful as it may be, the Crown-of-thorns Starfish has had a devastating effect on parts of the Great Barrier Reef

Good news for Australia in the battle to save delicate coral organisms on the Great Barrier Reef from annihilation by the rapidly multiplying and invasive Crown-of-thorns Starfish.

Scientists have discovered that the scent of the Triton Sea Snail is repellent to the giant starfish.

The Crown-of-thorns has been responsible for 40 per cent of coral cover loss on the Great Barrier Reef in the past 30 years.

University of the Sunshine Coast senior lecturer Scott Cummins says they have learned that the Triton Snail is one of the starfish’s natural predators.

“We put [the snail] next to the Crown-of-thorns Starfish and they reacted quite obviously,” he says.

“They started to run away, which is quite an important finding because it tells us they do have very poor eyesight, so they are sensing or smelling their main predator.”

At the moment, in an effort to save the reefs, divers search for the starfish and administer a lethal injection which was developed by James Cook University, but this is very costly an labour intensive. This new discovery may provide the long-term answer to the problem.

“The snail is releasing a complex mixture of molecules,” explains Cummins. “We want to narrow it down to exactly what the molecule is then hopefully we can take that and put it into some slow release system on the reef.”

Australian Institute of Marine Science researcher Dr Mike Hall says the decline of the giant Triton Snail, prized for its beautiful shell, might have partially contributed to the population explosion in Crown-of-thorns Starfish that has had such a devastating effect.

The snail has been protected in Australia since the 1960s but it is still extremely rare on the Great Barrier Reef.

One should hope that triton snails will also help against another threat to the Great Barrier Reef: the disastrous environmental policies of Tony Abbott’s government in Australia.

Seven ways the Australian government in totally screwing up the environment: here.

Cayman islands coral reef news


This video says about itself:

13 December 2012

Central Caribbean Marine Institute Research Divers on a scientific dive during a rainstorm; on this dive we were lucky enough to spot some juvenile squid under out boat when we returned to it. Divers are surveying Elkhorn Corals in Little Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies. We are between 50′ and 60′. The dive site is called Bus Stop and we are underneath a live-aboard boat of the Aggressor Fleet in Jackson’s Bay inside the world famous Bloody Bay Marine Park. This is what we do everyday on Little Cayman.

Little Cayman is considered one of the best dive destinations in the world. We have the most pristine Coral Reef Ecosystems in the Caribbean and one of the best in the World. Researchers and scientists come from all over the world to Little Cayman to get a base reading to compare the health of their reefs back home to. This is what we do everyday on Little Cayman.

Please Visit our website at www.reefresearch.org to learn more about us.

From the Cayman Compass:

Scientists explore secret of Little Cayman’s coral reef success

By: James Whittaker

30 December, 2014

What is so special about Little Cayman’s reefs? That’s the question a new $140,000 scientific study at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute will seek to answer.

Scientists want to determine why reefs around the remote island are thriving and whether there are lessons that can be adapted to help protect and maintain vital coral reef systems around the world.

The new study will look specifically at rare and endangered coral species around Little Cayman and attempt to determine why they are bucking a trend of widespread decline in coral reefs across the Caribbean.

An earlier study by CCMI showed that coral cover had been increasing around Little Cayman over the past five years.

The new project will focus specifically on evolutionary distinct and globally endangered species known as edge corals.

Dr. Kristi Foster, CCMI’s assistant director of research, said the aim is to determine the specific conditions present in Little Cayman that allow such corals to be more resilient to the threats facing reefs around the region.

“While elsewhere in the Caribbean reefs are in a state of decline, we are actually seeing an increase in coral cover. There is something special about our system here in Little Cayman,” she said.

“We are going to try to look at where we have hot spots of these edge corals and try to determine the environmental conditions that might explain why they are thriving.”

The study is partly funded through a $70,000 grant awarded by the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, with the money coming from Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

Researchers will conduct snorkel studies around Little Cayman’s reefs, and scientists will combine the results of those surveys with temperature and atmospheric data.

The researchers will also consider Little Cayman’s relative isolation and how its small population and relative protection from overfishing and coastal pollution have affected its corals.

“The idea is that this project will help us develop a ranking system to identify which areas need higher protection, for example through Marine Protected Areas.”

She said the research could be adapted to help put protection plans in place for vulnerable reef systems in other parts of the world.

She said scientists working on the study, titled “Enhancing Capacity for Coral Reef Resilience Management in the Cayman Islands,” have already located several previously unrecorded pillar coral colonies and more than 50 colonies of staghorn and elkhorn corals.

She added, “This grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation enables us to compare the abundance and health of at-risk coral species to the habitats and environmental conditions where they thrive.

“As we learn more about the resilience of Cayman corals to bleaching, disease outbreaks, and other climate-related disturbances, we can improve ecosystem-based management and conservation.”

A deadly combination of changing ocean conditions are threatening the survival of coral reefs, new research from scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the USA, shows: here.

Scientists reveal which coral reefs can survive global warming: here.

Giving dead reefs new life with fast-growing corals: here.

Caribbean Economies Face Peril as Coral Reefs Decline: here.

Coral discovery off Florida


This 2011 video from Florida is called Deep Water Coral Reefs: Oases of the Ocean: Recent Discoveries and Conservation.

From the Sun Sentinel in the USA:

Forests of rare coral discovered off South Florida

By David Fleshler

December 29 2014

A surprise discovery along the South Florida coast has revealed dense thickets of a species of coral thought to be disappearing from the region’s reefs.

More than 38 acres of staghorn coral has been found in patches on the reefs from northern Miami-Dade to northern Broward counties, in what scientists call a rare piece of good news for a species that has sustained severe declines, largely due to disease.

“This is a huge win for Florida’s corals,” said Joanna Walczak, southeast regional administrator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection‘s Florida coastal office.

Staghorn coral, which extends delicate branches up from the ocean floor, is among the most important coral species for its ability to build reefs, creating habitat for fish and other marine creatures and providing a natural wave-break that protects the coast.

The dense patches of the federally protected coral, discovered through dives and the analysis of aerial surveys, run from the area off Golden Beach through Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Although many of the coral concentrations lie far from shore, some are accessible to divers.

A scientist from Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center found the coral while doing a survey for the environmental agency, which wanted a better map of shallow reef system.

“This was an unexpected result of a project that was intended to improve our knowledge of the types and locations of near-shore reef habitats in southeast Florida,” said Brian Walker, research scientist at Nova’s National Coral Reef Institute, who conducted the study.

The northern limit for the species is roughly around Boca Raton, but in the past, it was densest in the Florida Keys. The species has been disappearing there, however, battered by a variety of problems, including coral bleaching and white-band disease.

Global warming contributed to the decline, with higher water temperatures touching off more frequent incidents of bleaching. That occurs when corals expel the algae on which they depend for energy, making them more vulnerable to disease, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ironically, that same warming may have made the water temperatures of Miami-Dade and Broward counties more hospitable for the species.

“Some have speculated that climate change might have contributed,” Walker said.

The department of environmental protection wanted a better map of the coral’s locations to improve the management of beach-widening, coastal development and other activities that could harm corals, as well as improve responses to incidents such as oil spills and illegal boat anchoring.

Along the Fort Lauderdale coast, a patch was found about 325 yards off Northeast 18th Street, another about 430 yards off Vista Park and one about 325 yards off the north end of the Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, where A1A splits. Another patch stands about 540 yards off the center of John U. Lloyd Beach State Park. It is illegal to touch the coral.

When he dove the sites, Walker saw a variety of marine creatures swimming and creeping around the corals. He saw reef croakers, fireworms and sea hares (a type of mollusk named for two earlike appendages). He saw threespot damselfish, which cultivate algae gardens on the corals by weeding out the algae species they don’t plan to eat.

Walczak, of the environmental protection department, said her office has begun putting more effort into studying the reefs north of Biscayne National Park, and “it amazes me that we’re still finding new and exciting discoveries.”

Giant clams in coral reefs, new research


This video says about itself:

Jonathan Bird’s Blue World: Giant Clams

8 September 2008

Giant clams are no myth. In New England, people love clam chowder, but in the Pacific, some of the clams are as big as a suitcase! On an expedition to Micronesia, Jonathan goes in search of Giant Clams. These clams are so big that people used to think they caught people–and it almost looks like they could. It turns out that the problem is too many people eating the clams.

From Biological Conservation journal:

The ecological significance of giant clams in coral reef ecosystems

Highlights

• We review the ecological importance of giant clams on coral reefs.
• Giant clams can contribute to reefs: (1) as food, (2) as shelter, and (3) as reef builders and shapers.
• Understanding the ecological roles of giant clams reinforces the case for their conservation.

Abstract

Giant clams (Hippopus and Tridacna species) are thought to play various ecological roles in coral reef ecosystems, but most of these have not previously been quantified. Using data from the literature and our own studies we elucidate the ecological functions of giant clams. We show how their tissues are food for a wide array of predators and scavengers, while their discharges of live zooxanthellae, faeces, and gametes are eaten by opportunistic feeders.

The shells of giant clams provide substrate for colonization by epibionts, while commensal and ectoparasitic organisms live within their mantle cavities. Giant clams increase the topographic heterogeneity of the reef, act as reservoirs of zooxanthellae (Symbiodinium spp.), and also potentially counteract eutrophication via water filtering. Finally, dense populations of giant clams produce large quantities of calcium carbonate shell material that are eventually incorporated into the reef framework. Unfortunately, giant clams are under great pressure from overfishing and extirpations are likely to be detrimental to coral reefs. A greater understanding of the numerous contributions giant clams provide will reinforce the case for their conservation.