I belong to a group called Women Working for Oceans. The mission is education and advocacy in partnership with the New England Aquarium. I went to a members only event this week. It was a Seagrass Restoration event in Essex, Massachusetts. We were led by two guest experts, Dr. Alyssa Novak from Boston University, and Peter Phippen from MassBays Natural Estuaries Program.
The first thing that happened when we arrived was that we were taken by boat out into Essex Bay and deposited on what was essentially a sand bar. Once there we met Alyssa who first explained to us how we were going to be replanting eel grass in the bay. This involved standing in knee high water, leaning over to dig a small hole, burying a small amount of root and then adding an iron staple on top. We asked her about the metal staple; apparently in calm water bamboo is used which decomposes relatively easily, but in this bay the water is too strong. The staple will rust and give iron to the plant. And since they work there a lot they do find them and reuse them as much as possible. Eelgrass provides food and shelter for many organisms in the bay, as described by Save the Bay.
While we were doing that Peter went out and brought back the crab traps that they had set out. So as the tide made our little sand bar smaller and smaller we moved on to the crabs. We had mostly caught rock crabs and green crabs. We counted the rock crabs, and then let them go. But the green crabs are an invasive species. We counted them, measured them, checked their sex and then put them in a big bag. They were going to be given to someone who uses them in cooking. All in all, not a bad day’s work.
Coral reefs are some of the most beautiful places on Earth and according to the recent IMAX movie The Last Reef they may be gone within our lifetime. It starts by talking about the amazing variety of species that live in coral reefs, from coral to fish to sea slugs. Sea slugs, or nudibranchia, look a lot like land slugs, but come in a tremendous variety of beautiful coloring. The Last Reef also talked about how many of these animals live in symbiosis and depend on each other for survival. An example of this is the relationship between coral anemones and clown fish. Anemones are poisonous to most fish and so the clown fish live within them to stay safe. The clown fish defend the anemone and keep it clean. The biodiversity and relationships between all the different living organisms is phenomenal.
The second half of the film talks more about what is threatening coral reefs. One of their major points is about the amount of CO2 in the ocean and how as it increases so does the acidity of the oceans. People with fishtanks have to make sure the pH remains within certain levels and the ocean is no different. There is also the rise in ocean water temperature which often results in coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is caused when the symbiotic relationship between coral and algae is disrupted, often by water temperatures above what the coral is used to.
According to the movie, coral reefs are disappearing five times faster than rainforests. The effects are being felt on shores that have been protected from the ocean by reefs, and by the entire ocean population. I would like to say that the end of the movie felt alarmist, but unfortunately they are right and I hope that more will be done to save coral reefs.