Carynne McIver: January 2011 Archives
Floods in the ocean may sound like an oxymoron, but the truth is that many marine habitats are highly sensitive to fluctuations in water levels and the changes they bring. Today, we are seeing a tragic example of this in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest reef system. The torrential rains that have been pummeling Australia this year bring many unwanted gifts to the nation's waters and reefs. Flooded freshwater rivers carry extra freshwater out to sea, creating a shift in the salinity of the Great Barrier Reef's waters. Species like coral, shellfish, and others are highly sensitive to changes in their environments, and even a small decrease in the ratio of salt can have devastating impacts. These rivers also bring with them many fertilizers, pesticides, and sediment flushed out by rainwater, and each carries a different threat for the reef: Fertilizers stimulate the growth of marine plants like algae and seaweed, which chokes corals and other native species. At the same time, foreign chemicals from pesticides can be toxic to sensitive marine plants and animals. And while sediment may be "natural" compared to fertilizers and pesticides, too much can muddy ocean waters and block sunlight from the corals, plants, and other species that thrive in shallow ocean waters and depend heavily on adequate lighting. Ocean currents carry river effluents far and wide, so even waters in southeast Australia make their way up to the Great Barrier Reef.
To make matters worse, coral reefs are in no condition to bear these challenges. While a robust reef might be able to weather them with relatively little long-term effects, the world's reefs today are already debilitated by climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, overfishing, and other threats. Adding floods to the mix may put them over the edge. As global warming continues to bring more extreme weather, such as the flooding Australia is currently experiencing, the Great Barrier Reef and other marine ecosystems will be on increasingly fragile territory.
Above, an aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef, the largest thing on earth created by living organisms. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Each year, Seacology honors an indigenous island conservationist who has dedicated his or her life to safeguarding their island home. For many of our recipients, the journey to our California ceremony honoring their work is the experience of a lifetime. Returning to their native country with $10,000 in prize money, our Seacology Prize recipients continue to achieve major progress in conservation. Below are updates on recent Seacology Prize recipients:
A belated Happy 2011 from Seacology! We can't think of a better way to welcome the New Year than by joining the United Nations in celebrating 2011 as the International Year of Forests. Forests provide habitat for up to two-thirds of plant and animal species on earth, but tragically are being lost at fatal rates, with deforestation causing as many as 100 species extinctions per day. While forests are found in all of the planet's regions, tropical rainforests found around the globe's center contain the most biodiversity. And with many of the world's islands found in these tropical regions, Seacology projects often project some of these highly endangered forests. Below are a sampling of Seacology's recent forest preservation projects. To learn more about forests around the world, visit http://rainforests.mongabay.com/
Lai River, Papua New Guinea - In the mountainous forest of the Baiyer, Jimi, and Lai Valleys in Papua New Guinea, inhabitants have been reliant on a footbridge built of cane, which needed to be rebuilt every three months. Seacology funded the construction of a permanent bridge. The community recently celebrated the construction of their new bridge with vibrant festivities, as seen in the photo below.
Onongoch, Fefen Island, Chuuk - Seacology is supporting the Onongoch community with a new village meeting hall, as well as needed water tanks and toilets. In exchange, the community is protecting 15 acres of the Chunuf forest, part of the West Fefen Area of Biodiversity Significance, and home to several endangered birds and many endemic flora and fauna. Below, the beautiful Chunuf forest near Onongoch.
Flores Island, Indonesia - Seacology now has two projects on Indonesia's Flores Island. Working with the communities of Cunca Lolos and Benteng Dewa, we have protected over 27,000 acres of the 63,738-acre Mbeliling rainforest, which both villages border (see photo, below). Our projects have funded a community health clinic and new fresh water system, helping these islanders and their environment. To learn more about Seacology's projects on Flores Island, read our recent blog post on Karen's trip to Indonesia.