n the last 27 years half of the Great Barrier Reef has been decimated, says an 2012 article from the BBC.
A World Heritage Site, the reef has seen better days. Researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science have gathered information from 2,258 separate surveys over the course of 27 years and have broken down the damage as follows:
48% caused by tropical cyclones
42% caused by the coral-feeding Crown-of-Thorns Starfish
10% caused by coral bleaching
Co-author of the report, Hugh Sweatman, explained that coral could recover “But recovery takes 10-20 years. At present, the intervals between the disturbances are generally too short for full recovery and that’s causing the long-term losses.”
Dealing with the starfish would conceivably be the easiest task; water quality in the area would have to be improved by lowering or eliminating the amount of industrial agricultural run-off that nourish the algae blooms that the starfish larvae feed on.
But why am I telling you old news?
That’s because this week the AFP (Agence France-Presse) reported that scientists have decided to go after the starfish with a bacterial culture that can kill the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish in about 24 hours. Any starfish that comes into contact with an infected individual will also become infected.
Morgan Prachett, a professor at James Cook University’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies says, “This compound looks very promising from that standpoint — though there is a lot of tank testing still to do before we would ever consider trialing it in the sea.”
The threat of another outbreak of the Crown-of-thorns Starfish in the Great Barrier Reef is looming on the horizon - as outbreaks of the starfish have been reported from Guam, French Polynesia, Paupa New Guinea and the central Indian Ocean - as many as 87,000 starfish were purged from one beach in the Philippines. Equipping a diver with bacteria that can kill up to 500 of them in one dive is much better than the method used now; divers needing to inject multiple starfish with poison in multiple dives.
If the reef is allowed to endure its destructors (tropical storms which are made worse by global warming, destructive starfish, bleaching as a result of global warming) then the size of the reef could halve again in a decade.
Morgan Pratchett also stated, “In developing a biological control you have to be very careful to target only the species you are aiming at, and be certain that it can cause no harm to other species or to the wider environment.” The Crown-of-thorns is certainly a threat to the reef, accounting for almost half its damage, but completely killing the species off would be counter-intuitive. I hope that the researchers can account for every possible scenario before they decide to utilize the bacteria as a cure for the reef’s ails. Otherwise, this could end up as one of those stories of good intentions ending poorly.
Source/further reading: http://www.afp.com/en/news/topstories/australia-scientists-tackle-reef-killing-starfish
Proposition for the Biotic Arch, a skyscraper that absorbs carbon dioxide, to be buit in Taichung, Taiwan; designed by Vincent Callebaut
Scientists at the University of Georgia have created a microbe that converts carbon dioxide into biofuel, a discovery that might boost the battle against climate change.
Trees are awesome!
The Bio Intelligent Quotient (B.I.Q.) Building is the First Fully Algae-Powered Architecture
Operating successfully for over a year, the Bio Intelligent Quotient (B.I.Q.) building in Hamburg, Germany is the first to be fully powered by algae. The building is covered with 0.78-inch thick panels—200 square meters in total—filled with algae from the Elbe River and pumped full of carbon dioxide and nutrients. The panels, which display the bright green algae, are not only aesthetic, but performative. When sunlight hits the “bioreactor” panels, photosynthesis causes the microorganisms to multiply and give off heat. The warmth is then captured for heating water or storing in saline tanks underground, while algae biomass is harvested and dried. It can either be converted to biogas, or used in secondary pharmaceutical and food products. Residents have no heating bills and the building currently reduces overall energy needs by 50%.
Not so long ago, many islands rose above the brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay. These small islands offered a predator-free haven for nesting water birds and turtles, while the larger islands supported fishing communities along with wildlife. But now, the muddy, marshy islands are eroding under the combined forces of geology and climate change. The very crust under the Chesapeake Bay is sinking, while sea levels are rising. Made of clay and silt, the islands erode quickly, and many have disappeared altogether.
Poplar Island ranks among those that would have been gone a decade ago if not for a massive restoration project. In the 1800s, the island had an area just over 1,000 acres and held a small town of about 100 people. By the 1990s, the island was nearly gone, containing a mere 10 acres of land. In the left image, taken by the Landsat 5 satellite on June 28, 1997, Poplar Island had been reduced to a tiny green dot surrounded by clouds of silt-laden water.
In 1998, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers began to restore Poplar Island. The project serves two purposes: it restores lost habitat to birds and turtles, and it provides a use for material dredged from Baltimore Harbor and Chesapeake Bay shipping lanes. The method of restoration is visible in the center image, taken on June 21, 2006. Engineers built dikes around sections of the island and have been gradually filling in the center with dredged silt. By 2006, the island had regained the shape it held in the 1800s.
As each cell is filled with new soil, the Army Corp of Engineers plants vegetation. The right image, taken on July 5, 2011, shows that much of the island has been re-vegetated. Poplar Island now has an area of 1,140 acres and may continue to expand by another 500 acres before the restoration is completed in 2027. Upon completion, Poplar Island will be half wetlands and half uplands covered by forest. The restoration project is expected to cost $667 million, says the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
Islands and shorelines in the Mid-Atlantic may become increasingly vulnerable to erosion. Sea levels are rising as the ocean warms and expands—and as glaciers and ice sheets melt—but the rise isn’t uniform around the planet. Currents, salinity, and topography create areas where sea levels are increasing more quickly, and recent research found that the U.S. Mid-Atlantic coast is one of the areas of accelerated sea-level rise. The rate of increase in the densely populated Mid-Atlantic is three to four times greater than average global sea-level rise. The increased sea level will make coastal regions and islands more prone to flooding and erosion.
A short animation of the Poplar Island restoration is available from the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio.
- Burton, K. (n.d.) The island that almost vanished is slowly reappearing. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office. Accessed June 29, 2012.
- Erwin, M., Brinker, D.F., Watts, B.D., Costanzo, G.R., and Morton, D.D. (2010, September 1). Islands at bay: rising seas, eroding islands, and waterbird habitat loss in Chesapeake Bay (USA). Journal of Coastal Conservation.
- Kaplan, M.D.G. (2012, June 22). Escapes: Rebuilding Maryland’s wild islands. The Washington Post Accessed June 29, 2012.
- Sallenger Jr., A.H., Doran, K.S., and Howd, P.A. (2012, June 24). Hotspot of accelerated sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast of North America. Nature Climate Change.
- US Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District. (2011, March 9). Poplar Island Paul S. Sarbanes Environmental Restoration Site. Accessed June 29, 2012.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Caption by Holli Riebeek.Instrument(s): Landsat 5 - TM
Back in 2010, the Greens Senators sharing a moment of intimacy after fighting so hard to see the passing of the Carbon Tax.
The repeal today is a sad step back. Over the world there are more than 1000 climate change policies, including:
Saudia Arabia: $100b investment in solar energy
European Union: ETS Scheme
The list goes on. Even the US is moving forward. It is sad that a country as rich as Australia does not have a clear climate change policy and a leadership that steadfastly refuses to listen to literally every leading scientific body. This is beyond embarrassing.
Recession of the Dead Sea
Neve Zohar, Israel
In recent decades, the water level of the Dead Sea has been dropping at more than 3 feet per year due to the extraction of raw materials and the diversion of water to the north (noticeable here). The Dead Sea level drop has been followed by a groundwater level drop, causing brines that used to occupy underground layers near the shoreline to be flushed out by freshwater. These declines have caused the recent appearance of massive cavities and sinkholes along the sea’s western shore. Consequently, in December 2013, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement to lay a water pipeline that will link the Red Sea with the Dead Sea in an attempt to replenish devastated areas.