Being in the Caribbean in February is usually a reason for envy, but this time the temperatures in Tennessee felt so springlike, it was actually difficult to leave the States! These first pictures are from Dominica, the Nature Island, where rainforests cover much of the interior and the rainforests of the sea are vibrant and alive….except when they aren’t.. Nearly two years ago, Tropical Storm Erika dumped something like 27 inches of rain on the island in ten hours causing massive flooding and river erosion. That sediment from the rivers is still heading out to the reefs near Coulibistrie, where my friend Izzy showed me the new deltas that have formed and the small, winding, tree covered streams which are now wide river beds devoid of trees. Our plan is to evaluate the reefs and work on stream bank stabilization so maybe, just maybe, we can save these reefs. We will need lots of help. Read more
I watched this video again today. I haven’t seen Goliath Grouper since I swam with them in the Bahamas when I was a kid. I am so impressed with Cuba’s protection of the mangrove and reefs. They are intimately connected. Without the mangrove nursery AND the coral reef, life in the Caribbean Sea will not flourish.
As most ecologists know, observing the same location over time tells you a story about what is going on with the health of the ecosystem. We have a small ecosystem in trouble….a favorite little bay in St. Lucia where Katie (and Nina and Sam, Kievan, Karim, and Selena and sometimes even Keiwa) likes to jump off of the high rocks. The reef was so beautiful when I first saw it many years ago. It still has a diverse array of coral species, but at least half of the bay now has mostly dead coral. The fish population was equally diverse, but now very few fish call the bay home. And what happened to all the sea urchins? They are such important grazers of the reef and none were there this week. It is likely that the Christmas Eve storm that devastated St. Lucia dislodged and killed the sea urchins. The sediment from the torrential rains from Hurricane Tomas in 2010 and again on Christmas Eve have seriously damaged the corals. Green algae is growing more abundantly, likely aided by nutrient enrichment. We have been challenged to try to reverse this process. Even as we can see that the corals of the outer bay seem to be healthier than just after Tomas, others are bleached and dying
I will admit, I haven’t been so good about posting the SEA Creatures lesson plans as I’d wanted, so I’ll try and catch up over the next couple of days. But the good news is that the program is going very well so far! Pictures are updated on our Facebook page, and I am working on having a gallery on the main SEA Creatures page.
Since Saint Lucia is surrounded by coral reefs, and these very reefs are endangered due to climate change, water pollution and coral diseases (amongst other things), I wanted to teach the kids about them. Many of the kids don’t know how to swim, and so they haven’t seen a reef before. Even those that had seen them didn’t know exactly what a coral was?
Corals may look like a rock or plant, but they are actually animals! And each structure you see isn’t just one coral, but is a colony. They can’t move around (They are sessile organisms) but because of a special relationship with a type of algae plant called zooxanthellae, they can still eat! The zooxanthellae live inside the coral reef, and like all plants, they get their energy from the sun. The zooxanthellae give some of the energy to the coral, and the coral, in turn, provide a safe place for the algae to live. Because the two organisms are helping each other, we call this a mutualistic relationship.
The algae alone isn’t enough to keep it alive. At night, the corals open up their rocky faces to reveal tentacles that can sting like a jellyfish. The coral can use these tentacles to stun and bring their food to their mouths (which is also their butt, hehehe). They can also use their tentacles to fight, as you can see in this video.
Coral Reef [Hunting & Fighting]
We did several activities across the different schools. One was to watch the “Magic School Bus: Takes a Dive” episode, which the kids loved. The episode takes them underwater and teaches them about mutualistic relationships, which was the theme of our lesson.
After the movie, we went outside to do 3-legged races, which represent how 2 organisms have to work together to survive!
At schools without access to a television, we focused on how a coral feeds and how the algae provides color and energy to the coral polyps.
White Latex Gloves (one for each kid)
Treat of some sort (we used cheeto snacks)
1) Allow each kid to have one glove and a sharpie. (We used Sharpies because I had them and they don’t run as much as a washable marker on a glove – paint might work too?)
2) Explain to the children that their hands are coral polyps and when it is white, it means that there is no algae inside. Without the algae (zooxanthellae) they will starve, so they have to color their gloves.
3) Once everyone colors their gloves, instruct all the children to put their heads down on the desk and close their eyes… corals are blind you know!
4) Now, call out to the children that it is the daytime and the sun is out, so a coral will keep it’s tentacles in (so they should make a fist with their hands). Wait a bit, then say that it is getting dark, darker… until it’s nighttime! At night the corals open and wiggle their tentacles around to find food that is floating by. So, in our game, walk around and put little treats in the kids’ hands as they wiggle their fingers. Switch between day and night time, making sure the kids do the appropriate action with their hands. Keep going until everyone gets a nice little snack, or you run out of food.
Conservation International sent out an email today with these great facts on it! I just can’t help but share them with you!!
70 Percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by oceans.
1 Percent of the Earth’s oceans are protected.
1 billion People worldwide depend on the ocean as their main source of protein.
52 Percent of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited. Another 20 percent are moderately exploited, and 19 percent are over-exploited.
3/4 Of tropical commercial fish depend on mangrove forests for food, habitat, breeding or nursery grounds.
Up to 35 Percent of the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed in the last 30 years.
1,400 Pounds – potential weight of a northern bluefin tuna. Top predators like this one are vital to the ocean food chain.
90 Percent of large predatory fish populations—including cod, shark and bluefin tuna—have disappeared worldwide due to unsustainable fishing practices.
1 in 4 Of all marine species live in coral reef ecosystems. (It’s no wonder reefs are often called “the tropical rainforests of the ocean.”)
20 Percent of the world’s coral reefs have been lost to date. Another 20 percent are degraded.
70-80 Percent of the oxygen we breathe is produced by the ocean.
150,000+ Is the combined size in square miles of pollution-caused “dead zones”—marine habitats that no longer support oxygen-using species. That’s larger than the state of Montana.
97 Percent of all water on earth is located in the planet’s oceans.
1 The number of “blue planets” called Earth.
In related news, Mary Beth and I will be doing Reef Check from the coast of the Dominican Republic during the first week of August! We will get to check the state of some reefs that are relatively untouched by other divers. Hopefully this will mean that the reef is more pristine (though I hate blaming reef degradation on my fellow divers, we do have a large impact on the underwater environment), but even the most remote reefs have been showing stress. Corals are extremely delicate animals (yes, they are animals!) and although they are also quite resilient, they can’t recover from the stress of pollution, disease, overfishing and heat if the stress never goes away! But that’s why we’re here! To show communities all around the Caribbean (including all of you in the US!!!) the importance of the reef systems and how to protect them!
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