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Background: Coral Reefs

Background: Coral reefs are often called the "rainforests of the sea" for their high levels of biodiversity despite a scarcity of nutrients. What exactly are corals? Corals are tiny animals that live in colonies and derive nourishment and energy from a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae algae known as dinoflagellates. Coral reefs are formed over the course of thousands of years as limestone skeletons constructed by corals accumulate and form a structural base for living corals.

The world's largest coral reef is the Great Barrier Reef, found off the Pacific coast of Australia. The second largest reef lies off the Atlantic coast of Central America, near Belize.

Coral reefs are increasing threatened by climate change, unsustainable fishing practices, the construction business (coral limestone is used for concrete), coastal deforestation (especially of mangroves), soil erosion, and pollution. Even unmanaged tourism and the aquarium fish trade can damage reefs.

Articles



Australia cancels plan to dump dredge in Great Barrier Reef
(09/02/2014) A consortium of companies—North Queensland Bulk Ports, GVK Hancock and Adani Group—have announced they are giving up on a hugely-controversial plan to dump five million tonnes of dredged sediment in the Great Barrier Reef. The plans ran into considerable opposition from environment, conservation, and tourism groups who feared harm to the world's largest coral reef system.


Elephants under the sea: awkward-looking fish modify the coral-reef ecosystem in mixed ways
(08/06/2014) Bumphead parrotfish are noisy feeders. They break off large branches of corals using their powerful beaks, grind them up in their bodies to extract nutrients, and expel the undigested material in large cloudy plumes of feces. Their voracious feeding is, however, not just a loud, messy affair. During the course of their feeding, they also change the coral reef ecosystem in numerous ways.


Scientists ask Australia to strengthen, not weaken, protection for Great Barrier Reef
(07/24/2014) A convening of nearly 600 tropical biologists and conservation scientists has called upon the Australian government to strengthen protection of the Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The declaration, issued at the annual meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), comes as Prime Minister Tony Abbott pushes to allow industrial dumping in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as well as port development in a nearby coastal area.


Fishing for coherent regulations along Fiji's coral reefs
(07/16/2014) Will Fiji implement a much-needed update to its fisheries laws before the September election? If you want to quiet a room in Fiji or feel like a lobster in a boiling pot, bring up coastal fishing rights, and ask what's happening with the plan to update the country's fisheries laws.


Booming populations, rising economies, threatened biodiversity: the tropics will never be the same
(07/07/2014) For those living either north or south of the tropics, images of this green ring around the Earth's equator often include verdant rainforests, exotic animals, and unchanging weather; but they may also be of entrenched poverty, unstable governments, and appalling environmental destruction. A massive new report, The State of the Tropics, however, finds that the truth is far more complicated.


Bigger than Mexico? Obama announces major expansion of Pacific protected area
(06/18/2014) President Obama announced yesterday he intends to drastically expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument making what will likely be the largest marine protected area on the planet. While the full extent of the ocean park has yet to be determined, it could potentially protect over two million square kilometers, an area larger than Mexico.


New study finds environmental damage globally may cost more than U.S. GDP
(06/06/2014) A new study added up all the world’s ecosystem services – from carbon storage and crop pollination, to recreation and flood mitigation – and found, every year, nature provides $145 trillion in benefits. It also indicates that land use changes, most of which has been caused by humans, may be reducing these benefits by trillions of dollars every year.


Coral could prevent HIV: newly discovered protein blocks infection
(05/09/2014) In the waters off the coast of northern Australia lives a species of feathery coral. Years ago, bits of it were collected by the Australian Institute of Marine Science and stored at the National Cancer Institute’s extract repository, along with 200,000 other samples. Researchers retrieved and tested this coral sample, and recently reported that it was very effective at blocking HIV infection of host cells.


Does haze from burning forests affect marine life?
(03/10/2014) Two scientists are calling on researchers, NGOs, and governments to begin studying the impact of burning forests and peatlands in Indonesia on the already-threatened marine ecosystems of Southeast Asia. Every year, Indonesian farmers set forests, vegetation, and peatlands alight to clear them for agriculture, often palm oil, and pulp and paper plantations. Not only do these practices destroy hugely-diverse tropical forests, but the resulting haze spreads to many parts of Southeast Asia, threatening regional health and impacting economies. Now, a new paper argues that the sinister impacts of Indonesia's burning may extend as far as the oceans.


Corals thriving despite acidified conditions in remote Pacific bay
(02/25/2014) Scientists have discovered a small island bay in the Pacific which could serve as a peephole into the future of the ocean. Palau's Rock Island Bay harbors a naturally occurring anomaly – its water is acidified as much as scientists expect the entire ocean to be by 2100 as a result of rising carbon dioxide emissions.


Protected forests linked to healthy coral reefs in Fiji
(01/27/2014) Increasing forest protection in the right areas could increase benefits up to 10.4 percent to coral reef condition, according to a recent study of Fiji's forests and reefs in Marine Policy. Benefits from protected forests such as improved water quality due to decreased runoff and increased distribution of the vegetation are more closely linked to coral reef health than previously thought.


Scientists discover a new coral in the French Polynesia
(12/20/2013) With humans scattered throughout the globe, it is hard to imagine lands still unexplored or species undocumented. Yet, on the remote French Polynesian Gambier Islands a new coral reef species has been found thriving in underwater lagoons. Echinophyllia tarae was discovered by marine biologist Francesca Benzoni and the research crew members of the Tara Oceans International Research Expedition.


Sea and storm: coastal habitats offer strongest defense
(10/11/2013) Surging storms and rising seas threaten millions of U.S. residents and billions of dollars in property along coastlines. The nation's strongest defense, according to a new study by scientists with the Natural Capital Project at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, comes from natural coastal habitats.


Governments should respond to ocean acidification 'as urgently as they do to national security threats'
(10/03/2013) The oceans are more acidic now than they have been for at least 300m years, due to carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, and a mass extinction of key species may already be almost inevitable as a result, leading marine scientists warned on Thursday. An international audit of the health of the oceans has found that overfishing and pollution are also contributing to the crisis, in a deadly combination of destructive forces that are imperiling marine life, on which billions of people depend for their nutrition and livelihood.


Shark overfishing hurts coral reefs
(09/20/2013) Overfishing for sharks is having detrimental effects on coral reefs, finds a new study published in the journal PLOS One.


Mesoamerican Reef needs more local support, says report
(09/13/2013) From massive hotel development through the agriculture industry, humans are destroying the second largest barrier reef in the world: the Mesoamerican Reef. Although global climate change and its effects on reefs via warming and acidification of coastal waters have made recent headlines, local human activities may destroy certain ecosystems before climate change has a chance to do it. The harmful effects of mining, agriculture, commercial development, and fishing in coastal regions have already damaged more than two-thirds of reefs across the Caribbean, in addition to worsening the negative effects of climate change.


Finding a needle in a haystack: two new species of octocorals discovered in the Pacific Ocean
(09/04/2013) The vast expanse of the Earth's oceans makes finding a new species like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact, finding a needle in a haystack may be easier than finding a new species of octocoral in the Pacific Ocean. But Gary Williams with the California Academy of Sciences has recently found not only one but two new species, including a new genus of octocoral.


Google Earth presents fish-eye view of coral reefs
(08/20/2013) You can now visit up-close and personal some of the world's most imperiled ecosystems on Google Earth: coral reefs. The Google team is working with scientists to provide 360 degree panoramas, similar to Google street-view, to give armchair ecologists a chance to experience the most biodiverse ecosystems under the waves.


U.S. bombs Great Barrier Reef, promises 'rapid recovery' of armaments
(07/23/2013) Four unarmed bombs dropped by the US military into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park pose a low risk to wildlife and a joint mission will aim for their "rapid recovery", according to the government agency in charge of the reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said two of the bombs are inert, containing concrete, while the other two were not armed, making the chance of detonation "extremely low".


Logging endangers UNESCO World Heritage Site in Solomon Islands
(06/22/2013) A world heritage site in the Solomon Islands is 'in danger' due to logging, warns the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).










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