Scientists will hand you their most scholarly answers based off of their scientific research and try to explain it in a very complex way. But, when it comes down to it, the answer is simply us collectively acknowledging our environmental impact and agreeing to change. The keyword in any environmental discussion these days is change. But how? The change takes you and it takes me. Whether you are based off the coastline or thousands of miles away from the nearest ocean, you matter.
Living in a landlocked state
Growing up in a landlocked state, conversations involving ocean depletion were not all too common. It wasn’t until I moved to a beach town that I was truly introduced to the issues concerning the health of the ocean. And really, the overall planet. Now, as a college graduate with a degree in Marine Environmental Science, I am surrounded and almost engulfed by the global issues. It makes me wonder how I didn’t know about all of this before. I recently asked those in my life that aren’t surrounded by a body of water. They don’t have lives dedicated to environmental studies, so what were their views on ocean related topics and their involvement. It blew my mind that the majority of the answers I received, were that they believed their actions did not have any effect on the ocean.
To be honest, growing up, my first thought when I got in the car or bought a single use plastic bottle wasn’t that I was affecting the ocean. It wasn’t until I was educated on human’s impacts that I realized we are all truly connected and dependent. Now that I am aware, I can’t turn back. I will educate others on the dramatic effects we as humans have on the matter and what we can do to change it no matter where we are.
Here are a few ways you can help the ocean whether you are near it or not:
Change your carbon footprint
To reduce your ocean impact you can ride the bus or use public transportation. Why not use a bike or walk: The atmosphere is warming at an alarming rate due to our carbon footprint. The ocean collects the heat and without the ocean, we would be in huge trouble. The collected heat then causes marine life (especially coral) to suffer. Your personal decision to limit the amount of energy contributes to the overall effort to stop climate change.
Support environmental organizations or organizations that support environmental movements:
If you are not near an ocean, donations are greatly appreciated as well as purchasing environmentally safe products that support good causes. Nonprofit organizations are incredible and your contribution, no matter how big or small, matters. Financial contributions are a great way to feel involved and connected.
Where does your food come from?
Know where your food is coming from: check the labels and restaurants. Are they getting their seafood from a sustainable resource? Much of the ocean’s threat is a result from overfishing and fishing through unacceptable practices including long lining which ultimately kills bycatch such as sea turtles and sharks.
Plastic, plastic, plastic
Reduce your use of plastic: Plastic and microplastic are two contributors to the destruction of our oceans and its marine life. Rivers and storm drains carry an enormous amount of trash into the ocean which ends up ingested by fish and much more. To cut back on the amount of plastic used, start carrying a recycled grocery bag to the store instead of using several plastic bags from your items. Use a reusable water bottle instead of single use plastic water bottles that come in plastic packaging. Bring your own to-go containers instead of the boxes they hand you at restaurants. Ultimately, become aware. Start noticing the amount of plastic that is so commonly used and get creative to come up with ways to reuse.
Use your voice
Vote to reduce your ocean impact: Vote on ocean related issues. You have a voice and your opinion matters. Voting and signing petitions grabs the attention of those who are able to actively do greater things for our planet. Use your power to take a stand and join the effort.
Keep yourself informed
Stay educated: You can reduce your ocean impact if you educate yourself on global and local environmental issues. The planet is connected and your local environment matters globally. Discuss these issues with friends or family and get involved. Watch documentaries and read the articles. Scientists and divers are out in the water seeing it with their own eyes and they have a lot to say. Listen. Being aware and acknowledging the issue will inspire others to get involved as well.
One of my favorite scientists and ocean explorers Dr. Sylvia Earle once said “No water, no life. No blue, no green”.
Coral bleaching, the phenomenon, the event that has brought scientists from all around the world together to discuss a single question- what is happening to our coral? Climate change skeptics and environmental downfall contributors have no other option than to acknowledge the reality of this current mass global issue.
An event that has been trending and turning heads from all over, even reaching world news. It has made its way to fame and has quickly gotten the attention of the human race- but do you really know what coral bleaching is?
So what is coral?
Looking at coral from its outward appearance, it can be disguised as a simple being that has no other purpose than for fish to inhabit and feed on. Some even mimic a rock substance. It is only when you look within that you realize that it is not a simple being at all.
Coral colonies are made up of tiny, yet extraordinary polyps that resemble sea anemones. An algae called Zooxanthellae, or Zoox, benefits the coral by living inside the polyps and photosynthesizing. This provides the necessary nutrition a coral needs to be able to be, well, coral.
Benefits of coral
Scientists are fascinated with the advantages that coral provides. In reality, these ancient and complex animals are what millions depend on for their survival. Some benefits of the reef include protection from tropical storms and waves. Also tourism, food, habitat and protection for many marine species, and even medicine. Imagine what would happen if we were to lose all of this due to the recklessness of our own generation? Well, the truth is that we already are on our way to doing so.
Our environment is sufferering
When you take a step back from the normality that our society has been convinced is sufficient and ideal, you will be shocked. As humans we have developed this hunger for more. We can’t get enough whether its money, power, food, clothes, etc. Then we are basing these needs off the idea that we will never run out, thus mass producing. It is only when we wake up from this false mentality that we can see what we are doing to our planet. The environment has been silently suffering from our carelessness for a long time. But it is finally grabbing our attention through natural disasters such coral bleaching.
Our carbon pollution is affecting our climate worldwide, especially our oceans. With life as fragile as coral, the rising temperature of only a few degrees can dramatically alter their ability to function. This can almost certainly lead to fatality, or otherwise known as bleaching. Car pollution, factory pollution, mining and burning of coal, and other destructive actions of man are collectively working together to kill coral reefs by stressing them out.
Like humans who react to fevers, the coral reacts to heat by expelling the zooxanthellae. The disruption of the zoox and coral relationship causes the coral to starve. This is due to the lack of nutrients obtained through photosynthesis. They then turn the color white we so famously see, giving it the name “bleaching”. Although most believe that a coral is dead once it has turned this holy white, it is actually still alive. It has the potential to recover. It is only once the tissue is extracted and rotting from the coral that it is officially too late.
Other factors like overfishing, pollution, and sunscreen, work as a team to cause coral bleaching on our coral reefs. If we continue to go down this wasteful and harmful path, we will only increase the severity of coral bleaching. A species that has survived for centuries is now depleting in only a few years due to the intensity of our ways. It can take decades for a reef to recover and less than a decade to destroy it. If we continue our mass burning of fossil fuels and increase our carbon pollution in the atmosphere, these severe bleaching events will continue annually. Coral is vital to life on Earth and the mass bleaching events are a cry for help. It is now up to us to ensure that the coral reefs are not gone for good.
With the business of the holiday season behind us now, we here at Marine Conservation Costa Rica have hit the ground running as we dive into 2020 with plenty of plans to continue our coral restoration work. One of the biggest shifts that we have seen as we enter this new year is our overall increase in both intern and volunteer activity. Especially with the addition of our newest staff member, JD.
This “crazy coral kid” will be working with us through September and has already brought a bunch of new ideas and positive changes to our organization. We decided to sit down with JD the other day to catch up with him and learn a bit more about his background with marine science/coral conservation.
“Growing up I was always obsessed with the ocean. The running joke with the family is that if a trip wasn’t close to the beach or didn’t have an aquarium that I could visit, I didn’t want to go and would make it extremely well-known. I always thought corals were cool but never really took the time to appreciate them.
In fact, it wasn’t until a travel course to Belize that focused on coral biology during my junior year of college where I actually realized how truly fascinating these tiny animals are and the numerous roles they place for both us as human beings as well as the countless marine animals we all love so much. Everyone was excited to swim with sharks, rays, and turtles while I was too busy focusing on getting up close and personal with every single polyp that called the waters of Ambergris Caye their home.
As tacky as it sounds, every time I dive and get to see healthy coral in its natural habitat I get this feeling of pure happiness, almost like I’m a kid again walking into an aquarium and falling in love with the ocean for the very first time. I really want to make sure everyone has the chance to experience that too.’’
– JD Reinbott
Q: What is your background with marine science/coral biology?
I studied Marine Science as well as Aquaculture/Aquarium Science at the University of New England in Biddeford, ME and to be totally honest bounced around within the field itself. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to focus on post graduation and was scared to make the wrong choice. It wasn’t until I randomly enrolled in a coral biology course with a field work trip to Belize where I quickly fell head over heels for coral and realized this is where I belong.
Shortly after the trip I became a certified diver and found myself traveling down to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve where I lived on a remote dive base for two months. During that time I collected metrics on things like coral population abundance, disease, bleaching, predation and overall reef composition.
This only furthered my passion for reef systems and made me want to learn more. Fast forward a year and I was now an intern at the Coral Restoration Foundation, the world’s largest coral restoration non-profit organization.
During my time I learned the various methods used to cultivate acroporid corals via in-situ nurseries and worked alongside the heads of both the restoration and science departments. It’s pretty cool to be able to say that I returned over 1,500 coral fragments back to the Florida Reef Tract during my time with CRF. Soon after I heard about the chance to move to Costa Rica and just like that I’m here!
Q: What is your role with MCCR?
I would say that my primary role is to help Kat and Geo continue all the work that we are currently doing (growing coral, nursery maintenance, public outreach, underwater cleanups, etc). Also playing around with a bunch of new ideas to further expand our programs. With MCCR being so new, there is a lot of wiggle room within the organization itself. This subsequently means that no day is the same. Sometimes I’m on land figuring out new ways to compile all of our data and microfragging corals. Other days I’m building new nursery structures and creating new educational presentations.
When I throw on a BCD and a pair of fins it’s a bit of a different story. Water days can consist of anything from harvesting coral to installing new structures to scoping out new nursery locations. It could also be performing benthic reef surveys. If there is ever a day someone finds me without a coral frag in my hand, it’s probably a day where I’m working as an instructor with Oceans Unlimited Scuba Diving & Go Pro Costa Rica. The Pura Vida lifestyle has been a bit of an adjustment with just a few things to do but I love every moment of it.
Q: What are you most excited about?
Honestly just to get the chance to watch this new organization develop further and to also bring all of my previous coral restoration knowledge and experience to help with such expansion. Getting to look back at everything that we have accomplished a year from now is going to be such an amazing experience and I cannot wait to see what is to come. Also getting to dive in a new ocean and work with new species of coral sounds pretty cool too.
Q: What is your favorite marine animal?
For anyone who knows me, this answer is a given. 110% an octopus. They are literally the strangest creatures that I have ever seen underwater and yet also the most unique and eye-catching (that is if you are lucky enough to spot them). Every single time I see one underwater, I audibly scream out of pure joy. I will only continue to swim when my dive buddy comes over and begrudgingly drags me away (literally ask anyone who has ever gone diving with me if you don’t believe me).
I would honestly just love to see what happens on a day to day basis within their lives, but also the one thing that always gets me is the fact that they HAVE EIGHT ARMS. LIKE COME ON HOW COOL IS THAT YOU COULD EAT AN ENTIRE PIZZA AT ONCE.
What an exciting start to 2020! We are bringing out a new scuba diving program for our interns and volunteers and it is all about one of our favorite critters here on the reef. The Octopus. The program is called Octopus Ecology and with it you will learn all about them.
The octopus is one of the most interesting creatures here on the reef. The are very often considered to be one of the most intelligent creatures of all invertebrates. They have three hearts and all of their tentacles have a mind of their own. That is three quick facts that are amazing.
During the program the following themes are covered;
the morphology of Octopus and the roles of them within the ecosystem. We also look at where to find Octopus on the reef and how do Octopus behave as well as learning how they feed and reproduce.
Finally we look at their conservation status and what species we can find locally as well as how we record and observe them. This is then followed by two dives on the reef observing and recording any data we have on them.
So, want to learn more? Then maybe you should sign up for our program. It is available as part of our Marine conservation internships and volunteer programs. It will be taught by our MCCR instructors and includes 2 dives out on the reef looking at Octopus habitats and behavior.
We recently joined forces with a awesome bunch of like-minded environmentally conscious folk in Quepos. Together we built this beautiful Sailfish made of reused plastic bottles. The entire construction process took more than 180 hours, so working over 15 days. The sculpture consists of over 3500 bottles, 3000 caps, and is an impressive 13 meter in length and weighs 200 kilos.
All this plastic for the art project was collected from our region around Quepos. Much of it is recyclable plastic…however, did you know that plastic cannot be recycled in Costa Rica? In fact, Costa Rica only has the capacity to recycle glass.
All other collected recyclables like plastic, aluminum and paper, have to be exported for recycling with current figures showing that only 9% of plastic collected for recycling is actually recycled. Much of our recycling ends up in landfills in far corners of the globe or burnt, so releasing toxic gases. This is why recycling is no longer the solution for our plastic world..we find alternatives to plastics.
REDUCE, REUSE and REFUSE!
This beautiful sailfish represents a hope for the future of Quepos. Many hands joined together to make it a reality, working together under the blazing sun and the occasional rain storm. Art projects like this are a way to reuse plastics and raise awareness of the plastic problem. Thank you to the Comite Ambiental de Quepos and to the artist, Alban Corrales for letting us work on this amazing project.
Coral reefs are referred to as the underwater cities of our planet. Diverse species collect and congest the underwater habitat. This gives them an appearance of hectic yet systematic city traffic. Warm-water fish and other marine species gather throughout the ecosystem due to their dependency.
This mass collection of colorful marine life allows many curious visitors to experience such beautiful and natural entertainment. Although when coral reefs are brought up for discussion, we tend to think of this tropical climate only a few feet below the surface, but that is not always the case. Here are some fun facts about the amazing coral reefs that maybe you didn’t know.
They are not just shallow water lovers..
Deep-sea coral reefs can thrive as deep as 2,000m below sea level. With little to no exposure to sunlight, they result to feeding on microscopic organisms where current flow is accelerated. Other marine organisms such as deep sea shrimp and crab depend on these tree like shaped structures for habitat. Deep-sea corals grow about 5-25mm a year and form groves of tree, feather, column, or fan structures. Although they take their time, the underwater gardens created in the depths are very extraordinary. Enough to keep scientists wanting more, despite what little knowledge we currently possess about the depths.
They have healing properties
Scientists may not have all the answers to questions associated with the depths of our oceans. Although we like to think that we have all the answers about the purpose of more shallow water reefs. We are constantly discovering new key advantages the reef provides for not only marine life, but for humans. Scientists have discovered that the coral’s chemical compounds they produce can be used for numerous healing techniques and medications. For example, for patients suffering from illnesses such as heart disease, viruses and human bacterial infections. Also Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer. Much more research is still in store, but coral reefs have been considered the “medicine of the 21st century”.
They have ways of looking after themselves too
Coral reefs are being studied worldwide for their ability to heal humans suffering from various illnesses. They are also being consumed by these humans globally. Yet who is taking care of the coral when they are sick? Different reactions have been displayed by the coral in an effort to get our attention. I think by far the most fascinating presentation has been the Glowing Corals. Coral Bleaching has been a recent but very serious issue which is caused by climate change and has caused the coral to suffer greatly from the heat. In response, the coral develops a sunscreen-like chemical that is very vibrant, giving off a fascinating glow throughout the reef.
Watch your sunblock please!
Although corals are able to produce sunscreen, the topic of sunscreen still needs to be discussed. Studies have shown that many top brand sunscreens we use such as Tropicana and Coppertone possess harmful chemicals like Oxybenzone and Octinoxate which are essentially absorbed by the coral. The chemicals accumulate in the tissue and cause the same reaction to coral as rising ocean temperatures do, coral bleaching. Places such as Hawaii and Palau are taking part in the banning of harmful coral reef sunscreens and a better future for the underwater ecosystem is hopeful.
Plastic? No thank you!
We are fighting for a better future for coral reefs globally but face many obstacles caused by the destructive behavior of man. One of the most concerning issues is the pollution of plastics. Studies found that Astrangia corals actually prefer microplastics over their regular diet (shrimp eggs). Because there is such a large quantity of plastic found in the ocean, researchers have found over 100 pieces of microplastic in the guts of wild coral. I guess you could call this a guilty pleasure.
Eating is a friendly affair
Coral must have a strong digestive system to consume that much plastic. How do corals consume plastic and other food daily? They do not have eyes therefor it is impossible to hunt visually. Instead, they have strategically developed a relationship with tiny algae living within them called zooxanthellae. The zoox capture sunlight which is converted into sugar for energy. The energy is then transferred to the coral polyp and provides the necessary nourishment. Coral also uses its intelligence to capture food in a very different way. At night, the coral polyps arise from their skeletons and use their stinging tentacles to capture tiny floating zooplankton nearby. Once the prey is captured, it is then pulled into the corals mouth and digested. This strategy therefor classifies coral as an animal.
Lets get it on……
Like every animal, corals reproduce. But as you can tell by now, nothing about coral is “normal” or “boring”. Of course neither is their reproductive system. They can reproduce both asexually and sexually. Coral reproduces asexually by budding or fragmentation. When budding, the new polyps leave their parent polyps and form new colonies. When fragmentation occurs, an entire colony of coral breaks off to form a new colony. This method is used in many coral restoration efforts. But this also occurs due to storm or boat grounding.
When Coral reproduces sexually, both sperm and egg is released. For some corals, such as Elkhart and Boulder corals, one colony will produce sperm while another colony produces only eggs. For other coral species such as Brain coral, both sperm and eggs are produced at the same time. The coral larvae can be fertilized in either the body of the coral or in the surrounding water. This process is called spawning.
Synchronization is key
Spawning can occur as a mass synchronized event which draws in many curious visitors. The larvae make their way to the surface of the ocean, which gives off a rather out of this world appearance. Then they make it to where the water meets the air. Following that they begin their final descent back to the ocean floor where they will settle and attach to a hard surface (that is, if they don’t get eaten first). Once attached, they begin their growth cycle and start the process all over again. It is not an easy life for coral, but their complexity and beauty is what keeps us wanting to know more. We still have much to learn about coral reefs and its inhabitants, but the facts that we have discovered shape our way for the future.