Environmental Factors and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

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Environmental Factors and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef: threats and protections

Environmental Factors and the Mesoamerican Barrier ReefLooking at Global Warming and fishing: outlining the threats they both pose on the survival of coral as well as its surrounding organisms and environment in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, and efforts that are being done to save it!By Tori Jelilyan

Global Warming and Climate Change: Rising temperaturesIncrease coral bleaching (in terms of both frequency and strength), see following slidesGreater amounts of diseases (in both corals and fish), as corals are weakened by the increase in temperature and become more susceptible to diseaseAlgal blooms (due to more favourable conditions for algal growth; commonly resulting in deoxygenated waters)Reduced strength of marine currents (which are responsible for distributing heat around the planet, therefore disturbing coral reefs)MortalityGlobal Warming and Climate Change: Coral BleachingThe process caused by usually a combination of:rising water temperatures over a short period of time(from global warming), bright sunlight, increased exposure to ultraviolet light radiation,flooding, exposures to chemicals or diseases, sediments (like sand) covering the coral, and/or excess nutrients (like ammonia) entering the reef and inhibiting photosynthetic reactions (responsible for converting carbon dioxide into sugars) which results in products building up and poisoning the zooxanthellae: unicellular dinoflagellate plants, most often found as plankton, that live in the tissues of animals; including reef building corals. They posess mutualistic (or symbiotic) relationships with these corals: the corals provide a protective environment (a calcium carbonate skeleton) where photosynthesis can occur, which in return produces food for the coral. There are many different varieties of zooxanthellae to ensure adaption to different conditions are possible.

Tissues of corals, packed with small algae called zooxanthellaePhoto by Michael ten Lohuis. Global Warming and Climate Change: Coral BleachingWhen corals bleach, their body tissues become transparent, appearing white. At this point, the corals are in starvation mode (as they are without the zooxanthellae) and can result in weakening, being more susceptible to disease and possibly dieing from stress.This results in threatening not only the corals but also the species that depend on them: over 500 species of fish, the mammoth whale shark, endangered salt water crocodiles, and many more.Some corals can survive and restore their health with new zooxanthellae or regenerate from deep tissues The zooxanthellae can migrate from bleached corals on their own, be evicted by the corals themselves, or die within the coral.

Image of bleached coralsGlobal Warming and Climate Change: continuedIncreased ocean acidity: the falling ocean pH contributing to reduced coral growthpredicted 17-35% by 2100, from increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which results in more energy needed to grow shells and skeletons of corals and other organisms living there (from the reduced calcification abilities in their environment)Extreme weather: Severe storms, hurricanes, and altered rainfall from a warming environment break, erode, and remove coral reefs (as well as affect costal communities). Also, possibility of increasing flood and high waves (resulting in diminished light penetration in the deeper reefs and thus inhibits growth speed and efficiency from impact of photosynthetic abilities).

Fishing: overfishingOverfishing occurs when fishing rates are not sustainable; the fish stock is unable to recover from meeting humans demands for both food and income.Made easier with the advances in fishing equipment, methods, and technology, as well as the increased levels of unreported and unregulated fishing (illegal)

All other species that share the environment with the overexploited species are affected (through the food chain, in symbiotic and competitive relationships between species/organisms, etc.; in the end, disrupting the natural balance of ecosystems).

Fishing: overfishing

Unintentional killings can also occur to untargeted organisms living in the same environment (ex. Corals, sea turtles, sharks, whales, birds, etc.) which also result in effecting the ecosystem as a whole.Fishing: cyanide/poison fishingUsing cyanide (and/or other poisons) to stun and capture coral reef fish; toxic to the coral reef environment and its inhabitants (as well as humans).Cyanide tablets are crushed into plastic squirt bottles of sea water and are distributed to fish resting on corals, resulting in stunned organisms to be collected by divers and killed corals.Many fish also escape into the cracks of the corals, to then have divers break the corals open to capture the fish.

Protective Measure Being Implemented to Save the Reef and its Inhabitants: The Summit FoundationSupporting conservation efforts in the Mesoamerican Reef eco-region since 1998Long-term goal: to ensure that the Mesoamerican Reef thrives as a healthy, productive ecosystem capable of supporting vibrant economies and providing abundant marine resources for generations to come. Focusing on processes and conditions in the headwaters that directly affect water quality downstream and all the way to the Reef, as well as addressing both land-based and coastal/marine issues that threaten the integrity and health of the ReefSpecific program objectives because: (i) they address key threats or bottlenecks in the ecoregion; (ii) they tackle issues that appear to be under-funded and/or offer unique and timely opportunities for success; (iii) they offer opportunities for highly leveraged action and collaboration; and (iv) they build on The Summit Foundations past grantmaking experience in the ecoregion.

Protective Measure Being Implemented to Save the Reef and its Inhabitants: The Summit FoundationObjective One: Identify, prioritize, and sustainably manage all viable fish spawning aggregation sites in the four Mesoamerican Reef countries, including selected nursery sitesSeeking to establish the first eco-regional network of protected spawning aggregation site in the world (predictable, reproductive locations to support long-term ecological and economic stability)Identifying and protecting key nursery sites that show connectivity with important spawning areas and existing marine protected areas

Objective Two: Secure long-term conservation funding for the Mesoamerican Reef by establishing an endowed financial mechanismAddressing the lack of steady, long-term conservation financingProtective Measure Being Implemented to Save the Reef and its Inhabitants: The Summit FoundationObjective Three: Significantly reduce agro-industrial and shrimp farming effluents that drain into the Reef system by improving the management practices of key producersReduce soil runoff and agro-chemical effluents that directly affect the ReefImplementing better practices in Belize, Northern Honduras and Quintana Roo by helping companies do so (fostering partnerships among governmental agencies, produces, investors, buyers and other stakeholders)

Objective Four: Establish at least one highly effective environmental law group per country poised to address the most critical threats and glaring environmental abuses in the Mesoamerican ReefDeveloping a strong network of environmental law experts in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Quintana Roo that are capable of addressing the most significant issues affecting the Reef (better enforcement of laws for protection, etc.)

Protective Measure Being Implemented to Save the Reef and its Inhabitants: The Summit FoundationObjective Five: Ensure that a critical mass of hotel chains and cruise lines adopt eco-friendly policies and implement improved construction and service practices in the Mesoamerican ReefFostering innovative partnerships (among NGOs, governments, main hotel chains, cruise lines, marine recreation service providers, etc.) to promote better management practices Successful alliances should guarantee the health and integrity of the Reef

Overall, this program helps not only raise awareness within the countries surrounding the reef and the governments, businesses, and people inhabiting them, but also aides the development of protective laws and restrictions which will support the growth and existence of the Mesoamerican Reef and its inhabitants. Finally, this program will also provide programs to foster the reproduction and conservation of the Reef itself.Works CitedCoral Reefs: Zooxanthellae. (n.d.). Reef Resilience: Building Resilience into Coral Reef Conservation. Retrieved June 27, 2011, from http://www.reefresilience.org/Toolkit_Coral/C2a1_Zooxanthellae.html Coral bleaching-Key text. (n.d.). Home - Australian Academy of Science . Retrieved June 27, 2011, from http://www.science.org.au/nova/076/076key.htm Cyanide Fishing: A Poison Tide on the Reef. (n.d.). World Resources Institute. Retrieved June 27, 2011, from www.wri.org/publication/reefs-at-risk/cyanide-fishing Global Consequences of Overfishing - International Fisheries. (n.d.). Welcome Page | Page d'accueil. Retrieved June 27, 2011, from http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/international/isu-global-eng.htm Program Areas: Conservation of the Mesoamerican Reef | Program Objectives. (n.d.). The Summit Foundation | The Summit Fund of Washington. Retrieved June 27, 2011, from http://www.summitfdn.org/foundation/programs/reef-conservation/program-objectives.html Region. (n.d.). Protecting the Mesoamerican Reef | Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW). Home | Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW). Retrieved June 27, 2011, from http://www.elaw.org/node/1223 Threats to Reef Health - Healthy Reefs. (n.d.). Healthy Reefs Healthy People - Healthy Reefs. Retrieved June 27, 2011, from http://www.healthyreefs.or