coral reef ecology

Why Should I Care For the Oceans?

We’ve all heard it:

“Why does it matter if we overfish tuna? It tastes so good!”

“If the oceans dried up tomorrow, why would I care? I live 500miles away from any body of water!”

The thing is, without the oceans, we would all be dead. Our planet would probably look like Mars. There would be no freshwater, no food for us to eat, no suitable climate for us to survive.

(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Whether you live by the coast, or only see the ocean once a year on holiday, the ocean has an impact on your life. Every breath you take, every food or drinks you have… is thanks to our oceans. Every single individual and living being on this planet is deeply connected, and extremely dependent upon our seas.

The oceans regulates climate, weather, and temperature. They act as carbon dioxide ‘sinks’ from the atmosphere. They hold 97% of the Earth’s water. They govern our Earth’s chemistry; all the microbes and microscopic organisms at the very bottom of the food chain support our own existence. The oceans are also crucial for our economies, health and security.

(Photo credit: Brian Skerry)

The past generations have been raised with the idea that the ocean is huge (and it is) and resilient, and that we could basically take from or put into the oceans as much as we wanted. Now, we found out that we cant go on this way. This mentality is part of our problem and it needs to change.

While we have made tremendous discoveries about the oceans over the last few decades, we have also caused more destruction to the sea than ever before. Many fisheries stocks are overfished, catastrophic fishing techniques are destroying the habitats and depleting populations, many marine species are on the verge of extinction, coral reefs are dying, pollution run-offs from agricultural farms are creating dead-zones where nothing can grow or live, millions of gallons of oil have devastated the Gulf of Mexico, bigger and faster container ships create noise pollution for marine mammals and endangers them…The list goes on, and on. We have had so much impact that we have actually changed the pH of the oceans! 

Pretty overwhelming, uh? 

So yes, you should care, because if the oceans crash, we as a species are crashing with them. The entire planet Earth will be gone. And if that’s not enough of a wake-up call for you, I don’t know what else could be!

While all the current marine conservation issues appear huge and insurmountable, there is still hope. Each individual can make a difference now. YOU can make better choices about which fish to consume (or not at all!) and ask about the way they were caught or raised, YOU can encourage sustainable fishing practices, YOU can decide not to use fertilizer or pesticides in your backyard, YOU can bring your own reusable bag to the grocery store and stop using plastics, YOU can stop using products with microbeads, YOU can participate in beach clean-ups, YOU can start your own research and discover even more awesome things about the oceans… YOU can spread the word to your skeptic friends! Have people follow in your footsteps; inspire your friends and family. Be the change :) !

(Photo source: Flickr)

“If you want to have an impact on history and help secure a better future for all that you care about, be alive now” - Sylvia Earle



Aerial checks of more than 900 individual reefs showed the spread varies dramatically along its 2,300 kilometres, from 90 per cent north of Port Douglas to less than 10 per cent south of Mackay.  

Coral bleaching is when abnormal environmental conditions cause coral to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae. Loss of colourful algae causes coral to turn white and “bleach” -Bleached coral can recover if the temperature drops and zooxanthellae are able to recolonise them, otherwise it may die.

The Great Barrier Reef has been threatened with mass bleaching due to weather conditions El Niño and the rapid climate change. 

The southern third of the Great Barrier Reef fortunately cooled down late in summer due to ex-cyclone Winston. Researchers expect the central and southern corals to regain their colour and recover over the next few months

SPONGES (Porifera spp.)

Sponges are incredibly important for nutrient cycling in coral reef communities. These guys are filter feeders, pulling plankton from the ocean and converting it into inorganic nutrients that help facilitate the growth of nearby marine life. They’re so efficient, in fact, that a single “pocket” of seawater will be plankton-free within 5 minutes!

Image Credit: Stacy Peltier, 2013

Hey guys! So, exciting news, on Monday I’m heading to Mozambique for a month-long research project on coral reef fish ecology. I am beyond excited for this trip. Thank you so much to everyone who donated to my PayPal to help me cover the plane ticket costs. 

With that being said, I will probably not have very much access to internet while I’m there, I’m still trying to work out all the details on that. So if this blog gets super inactive, that’s why. 

Speaking of which, I’m sorry this blog has been kind of slow recently. I’ve had a crazy busy (but also super rewarding) semester, and I just haven’t had time to post like I usually do. When I get back from Africa, things will pick up again.

Again, thank you! Hopefully I’ll have some fun updates from Mozambique to share with all of you.

- Courtney


Tonight (July 29) on LIFE ON THE REEF, witness the explosion of life on the Great Barrier Reef as the wet season approaches: corals spawn, sea birds nest and thousands of turtle hatchlings erupt over the beaches. Soon torrential rain and storms will bring change and upheaval to the delicate ecosystem. At 7pm CT, 6 MT.
These scientists studying coral reefs were brought to tears -- but in a good way
As ocean warming continues to trigger widespread destruction of coral reefs, a decade-long study of remote islands in the Central Pacific suggests these biodiversity hot spots may thrive despite the threats posed by an increasingly hotter planet...
By Los Angeles Times

In a massive project spanning 56 islands, researchers examined 450 coral reef locations from Hawaii to American Samoa, with stops in the remote Line and Phoenix islands as well as the Mariana Archipelago. Their results — published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B — show that coral reefs surrounding remote islands were dramatically healthier than those in populated areas that were subject to a variety of human influences…

When I have a scientific essay to write about coral bleaching that requires several sources, I go big and ask the queen of coral reef ecology and conservation for her help. I now have a skype chat on Tuesday with Cindy L Hunter of University of Hawai'i on Manoa.
The Great Barrier Reef: a catastrophe laid bare
Australia’s natural wonder is in mortal danger. Bleaching caused by climate change has killed almost a quarter of its coral this year and many scientists believe it could be too late for the rest. Using exclusive photographs and new data, a Guardian special report investigates how the reef has been devastated – and what can be done to save it
By Michael Slezak

“Surveys have revealed that 93% of the almost 3,000 individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef have been touched by bleaching, and almost a quarter – 22% – of coral over the entire reef has been killed by this year’s global bleaching event. On many reefs around Lizard Island and further north there is utter devastation.”

(Photographs by The Ocean Agency)

More pictures - Coral Graveyard: The aftermath of bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef

This is the beautiful but rare Montipora sp commonly alluded to as a ‘rainbow’ Montipora. What makes this guy so unique is the multi-coloured polyps that make up the colony. Most colonial corals such as; Acropora, Montipora, Favia etc, possess only single coloured polyps, however this guy has yellow orange and green making it very unique indeed.
Australia To Scrap Plan For Dumping Near Great Barrier Reef

SYDNEY, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Australia will abandon plans to dump 3 million cubic meters of dredged sand into the Great Barrier Reef area in its effort to create the world’s biggest coal port, the Australian Financial Review reported on Tuesday. …


Crown Jewel of Cuba’s Coral Reefs:

Jardines de la Reina, a vibrant marine preserve, is thriving even as other ocean habitats decline.


The six-foot Caribbean reef shark came out of the water thrashing, and Fabián Pina Amargós and his crew quickly pulled it into the research boat.

A team set to work, immobilizing the shark’s mouth and tail, pouring water over it to keep it breathing and inserting a yellow plastic tag into a small hole punched in its dorsal fin.

“What is its condition?” Dr. Pina’s wife, Tamara Figueredo Martín, asked.

“Excellent, the condition is excellent,” Dr. Pina said, before the team pulled out the hook, carefully lifted the shark up and tossed it back into the ocean.

A marine biologist and director of Cuba’s Center for Coastal Ecosystem Research, Dr. Pina has spent much of his career studying the abundance of fish and other wildlife in this archipelago 50 miles off the country’s south coast, a region so fecund it has been called the Galápagos of the Caribbean…

(read more: NY Times)

photographs by Todd Heisler/NY Times