Browsing Category



Deadly Threat to Coral Reef From Disease

February 18, 2019

In 2013, researchers off the coast of Christmas Island discovered something shocking. The coral reef they’d visited only five years earlier was skeletal and dead, its tissue destroyed and bone-like. The cause of the deterioration was a disease called white syndrome, and even now, in 2019, scientists are still baffled.

While white syndrome has many of the qualities of coral bleaching — draining the life and color from a coral reef — the disease is far more deadly. Instead of stressing the coral until it expels its algae, white syndrome kills a reef completely, leaving nothing behind but a bare structure of what it once was.

What is white syndrome, and how can researchers hope to address the problem? Let’s dive into the strange and mysterious depths of this growing phenomenon.

The History of White Syndrome

The team who found white syndrome off Christmas Island in 2008 weren’t the first to discover the disease. It had been ravaging coral reefs since at least 1998, when Australian researchers began to systematically track its spread. Since then, it’s affected coral around the world, suggesting it isn’t a localized problem.

In the Caribbean and the Philippines, across the Great Barrier Reef and the Red Sea, white syndrome has eaten away at coral reefs without a discernible pattern, save for a few small details. Scientists still struggle to understand the disease, unaware of its origins or cause. That said, there are a few things we’ve learned.

The Facts About White Syndrome

White syndrome only affects the Acropora genus of corals, which might seem beneficial, were it not for the fact that Acropora corals are the most abundant and diverse in the world. They’re the dominant species in Indo-Pacific reefs, common today, but are likely to vanish from many areas, according to Jean-Paul Hobbs.

A coral ecologist, Hobbs was a member of the team who studied the reefs off Christmas Island. He saw firsthand the devastation of white syndrome on the area’s ecosystem when the disease killed up to 96 percent of the Acropora plate coral living in the island’s reefs. With their death, the habitats they created died as well.

The reason why Acropora coral is susceptible to white syndrome remains unknown, though there’s speculation. Hobbs claims Acropora corals are among the fastest genus in the world, and the energy they invest to sustain their growth might leave less strength to fight off disease and protect against environmental changes.

In truth, white syndrome is an umbrella term for multiple conditions, and there isn’t a single pathogen to blame. Bacteria, protozoans and even parasitic worms are all linked to the disease. Without knowing more about the cause of the problem, it’s difficult to make meaningful progress toward finding a long-term solution.

At the present moment, we’re aware that outbreaks of white syndrome are associated with warm water, suggesting a rise in the phenomenon as climate change continues to heat our oceans. While it may seem like there’s little we can do, that hasn’t stopped scientists from fighting on the frontlines of this growing issue.

The Battle Against White Syndrome

When white syndrome spread through the corals of southeast Florida and the Upper Florida Keys, the state issued an emergency $1 million grant to government agencies, nonprofits and scientists to address the issue. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as providing the proper funding, and the disease continued unabated.

In truth, there are many factors behind the death of corals, such as agricultural runoff and pollution from sewage. Perhaps the largest contributor is climate change, which weakens already susceptible organisms, and with acidity levels increasing 26 percent since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the pressure is intense.

Corals in this toxic environment are now subject to white syndrome, and scientists are limited in their options in how to approach the disease. They can push for green initiatives that reduce greenhouse gases, focus on improving water quality in affected areas or implement a new short-term solution.

In the battle against white syndrome, scientists have devised a method that involves a broad-spectrum antibiotic. A team cuts as much dead and diseased tissue from a coral colony as they can before applying the antibiotic in small doses to the affected areas. This strategy has shown incredible promise in controlled trials.

While reliance on antibiotics is potentially risky, there are few alternatives that are nearly as effective. This solution’s success might not prove feasible, as it takes far too much time to prune diseased tissue and apply antibiotics, making it prohibitive in every location where white syndrome has hit.

Looking Toward the Future

Coral bleaching already represents a substantial risk to the future of the world’s reefs, and with white syndrome sweeping the oceans, the situation appears grim. Still, it’s necessary to remain positive and optimistic moving forward, and trust in the ingenuity and dedication of scientists and environmental organizations.

Though corals are in danger, there’s still time to act. The battle isn’t over yet, and as researchers make slow but steady progress, we move closer toward finding a solution to save our reefs and restore ecological harmony.


How to Find Eco-Friendly Sunscreen in 2019

February 4, 2019
eco-friendly sunscreen

When you’re spending time outside, sunscreen is essential to protect your skin from the dangerous UV rays that the sun emits. But with recent studies and controversies, you might not be able to tell which protective methods are effective and safe for the environment.

From deciphering the labels and ingredients to keeping up with scientific developments, it’s more difficult than ever to know what products won’t wreak havoc on the oceans while keeping your skin healthy. Check out the following ways to pick an eco-friendly sunscreen in 2019 — but first, let’s look at the effects of chemical sunscreens.

Why Choose Eco-Friendly Sunscreen?

Most sunscreens contain ingredients that hurt marine life, particularly coral reefs. Coral reefs are a delicate ocean organism that aquatic creatures use as a shelter. In fact, millions of species inhabit reefs, making a rich and biodiverse ecosystem. So, the shape of coral reefs affects its marine residents too.

So how do pollution and changing temperatures threaten coral reefs? A fluctuating environment bleaches the reefs and damages the intricate system, potentially with long-term consequences. Their response to these conditions causes them to weaken and lose color. But when people choose a sunscreen without reef-disrupting substances, the reefs have a greater chance of recovering in cleaner ocean waters.

1. Skip Oxybenzone-Filled Sunscreens

The primary chemical that’s toxic to reefs is called oxybenzone. It’s a common UV-blocking ingredient, but while your skin benefits, reefs suffer. When you swim in the ocean or take a shower afterward, your sunscreen rubs off and enters the water, and the oxybenzone eventually reaches reefs to sap nutrients and weaken the organisms.

Oxybenzone disrupts the hormones of reefs too, so developmentally flawed coral polyps are produced, or reproductive systems are irreversibly destroyed. Octinoxate is another pollutant in sunscreen that impacts coral reefs.

Instead of using oxybenzone, eco-friendly companies are championing zinc oxide and titanium oxide sunscreens. There’s some controversy over the safety of zinc oxide, but titanium dioxide shows little to no impact on reefs. Pick a sunscreen with zinc and titanium ingredients rather than oxybenzone.

2. Opt for Biodegradable Sun Protection

Biodegradable sunblock is better for ocean life because when it comes off in the sea, it poses little threat to marine animals. It simply sinks to the bottom of the ocean, unlike sunscreens with parabens and chemicals.

The minerals used in biodegradable sunscreen are normally zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Other natural products like beeswax and essential oils can disturb ocean creatures, and petrolatum and mineral oil have a lengthy biodegrading life. Stick to simple biodegradable lotions.

For cosmetic purposes, many companies use nano mineral particles, but there’s been a recent scare with these micro-sized minerals. Non-nano sunscreens are popular, but according to the Environmental Working Group, sunscreens should strike a balance to form an effective barrier with a variety of sizes.

3. Exchange Aerosol Sprays for Lotions

Sprays are convenient and fast to use, but they coat you, the water and the sand with a layer of sunscreen that extends the reach of the ingredients. This layer can expose animals on the coast and in the ocean to substances they’re not used to, which can compromise their health. Spread a lotion or cream-based sunscreen on your skin instead of using aerosol sprays.

4. Let Your Sunscreen Soak for Half an Hour

You may want to forgo the half hour waiting period before splashing into the ocean, but this amount of time allows the sunscreen to soak into your skin. A thorough attachment means less sunscreen runoff can leak into the water. It also means you have more protection from UV rays. Remember to repeat this interval every time you reapply.

5. Take Advantage of UPF Protection

Ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) is a rating on clothing that displays its level of protection. You can add an extra barrier between your skin and sun rays with UPF clothing — without hurting any marine life. Wear a hat and a long-sleeve cover-up or rash guard when you can. Bring bathing suits with extra coverage and UV-blocking material on your next beach excursion to complement your biodegradable sunscreen.

6. Choose SPF 50 and Lower

Sunscreens with SPF levels above 50 don’t offer a significant boost in UVB radiation protection, but they do add more chemicals to spike the SPF level. The added sense of security you get with a high SPF is misleading, and these sunblocks can harm coral reefs and other ocean animals. Keep your SPF level lower for sufficient protection and to help sea life.

Continued Care for Marine Life

Efforts to protect ocean life from dangerous chemicals are starting to spread. So far, Hawaii, Palau and Bonaire have rejected the use of oxybenzone-filled sunscreens.

To helpfully contribute yourself, use an eco-friendly sunscreen. You can find different versions in online stores if your local stores don’t carry them!


How Coral Bleaching Is Changing Marine Life Behavior

January 10, 2019
marine life

An aquatic ecosystem is like a scale, delicately balanced, and even a small addition or subtraction can make it tip. There are many examples of these disturbances, like invasive species, natural disasters and resource exploitation, but of all the threats to marine life, coral bleaching is one of the most disruptive.

Bleaching is the stress response of corals under environmental pressure, caused by freshwater inflows, tropical cyclones and anthropogenic pollution. The most significant contributor to bleaching, however, is climate change, and the consequences of global warming on the ocean’s pH levels and temperature.

Continue Reading…


Ocean Acidification: How Carbon Dioxide Is Drastically Changing Our Oceans

December 10, 2018
ocean acidification

When considering the effects of human-caused carbon emissions on the planet, most people would likely say climate change is their biggest concern. Indeed, rising temperatures due to excesses of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide may lead to rising sea levels, droughts and other threats. But another consequence of burning fossil fuels, called ocean acidification, may have equally concerning implications for life on earth.

Let’s take a look at what ocean acidification is, what it does and how people can stop it from harming ocean biodiversity and human livelihood.

Continue Reading…


Common Chemicals in Our Water Supply and How to Avoid Them

November 15, 2018
chemicals in water supply

People rely on tap water almost every day of their lives, at least in the United States, where we are lucky enough to have running water available in our homes. Most of the time, people don’t question the safety of their water. However, when a water crisis such as the one in Flint, Michigan captures public attention, people grow more concerned about the chemicals that may exist in their water.

The human instinct to guard the water supply exists for a reason. Water contaminated by undesirable bacteria and chemicals can make people sick, sometimes severely so. For this reason, it’s smart to remain cautious about water safety even when no obvious problems present themselves.

Let’s consider which chemicals enter the water supply and how you can avoid them.

Continue Reading…


Stopping Florida Red Tide From Spreading

October 25, 2018
Florida red tide

Off the coast of Florida, something in the water is causing wildlife to wash up dead on beloved beaches. The phenomenon is causing fishing operations to stall and costing the state millions of dollars in lost tourist revenue and cleanup costs.

The cause isn’t the apocalypse. In fact, the phenomenon isn’t even particularly unusual. The algal bloom causing Florida’s problems, called red tide, began to appear in records of Florida’s Gulf Coast as early as the 1840s.

The culprit behind Florida’s red tide is a tiny organism called Karenia brevis, a type of algae. It’s effects on humans and the ocean ecosystem can be devastating, but currently, there isn’t a lot people can do to stop it.

Here are a few answers to common questions about red tide and a few ways normal citizens can help.

Continue Reading…


Is There Any Way to Stop Vaquita Extinction?

October 11, 2018
vaquita extinction

Is there any way to stop the extinction of the world’s rarest marine mammal? It’s a pressing question for conservationists.

They’ve posed the same question of the white rhino, saiga antelope and golden lion tamarin with varying degrees of success. Conservation is no easy task, and saving an endangered species of marine life comes with a unique set of challenges that complicates the undertaking.

Compared to the white rhino or saiga antelope, the vaquita is a relatively new discovery. It’s the most recent cetacean — a grouping that includes whales and dolphins — to be recognized by modern science. It was only in 1966 that a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recovered the first full specimen for observation.

Since then, the vaquita population has only continued to diminish. Earlier in the decade, an estimated 200 vaquitas inhabited the Northern Gulf of California in Mexico — shallow waters that make up their natural habitat. Today, fewer than 30 of these rare porpoises remain.

Continue Reading…


How Does Desalination Work to Increase Access to Drinking Water?

September 27, 2018
how does desalination work

Water scarcity affects an estimated one out of three people on every continent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

It’s crucial that we find solutions to this crisis, especially since water shortages are expected to worsen as the population grows, consumption increases and climate change increases the frequency and severity of droughts. One potential solution is desalination, which is defined as any of several processes used to remove dissolved salts from water to make the water drinkable.

Continue Reading…


What Are the Most Effective Water Pollution Solutions?

September 13, 2018
water pollution solutions

Water pollution is one of our most pressing environmental problems. We all need water to survive, and as population grows, so does the demand for clean water. The pollution of the world’s oceans, rivers, lakes and streams, however, is making it harder to meet this demand. Water pollution also harms fragile ecosystems and causes widespread environmental problems.

There are various water pollution solutions that can help to mitigate this issue and prevent it from getting worse. Here are some of the most effective ones.

Continue Reading…


Effects of Overfishing on Ocean Health

August 30, 2018
effects of overfishing

Fish is a staple on restaurant menus all over the world. You might eat this protein-rich food every week or more.

Humans consuming fish for nutrition is certainly not a new trend. It’s been happening for at least 164,000 years, and researchers found fishhooks dating back to 40,000 B.C.

In modern times, we have to be concerned about the effects of overfishing on local marine populations and overall ocean health. Technology and large-scale fishing operations allow people to catch vast quantities of fish while exerting relatively low effort.

Continue Reading…