Thursday, January 26, 2006

too long....

I have to apologize for taking soooo long again to put up anything new. Trying to finish your PhD tends to take up your time… a lot of it! Pity because I really do enjoy writing stuff up. I’ll try to put something in before the month ends! Haven’t been in the water since November which I’m thankful for because it’s winter here and the water’s freezing! But I’ll have to go back in in a couple of weeks. Hopefully there’s no cold front sweeping through then!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

changing climate, changing world, changing reefs

“Change is the only thing that is constant”

In my experience, the above saying is absolutely true. The universe and our planet have been through many such tumultuous changes in their 4.5 billions of years or so of existence, as evidenced by the geological record. Unfortunately, this saying and the huge variations found in the geologic record, become the skirt that people, institutions and governments (like Mr. Bush’s) hide behind, vehemently denying the indelible thumbprint of humans on today’s very rapidly changing climate.

Governments from all over the world came together from November 28 to December 9 in Montreal for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. They met primarily to hash out policies after the existing Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. As expected, the number one CO2 emitter, the great U.S. of A., refused to enter into ANY talks about curbing their greenhouse gas emissions, persistently citing that one, this will harm their economy, two, other big developing countries like China and India are not included but should be, and three, there are other measures that America is taking. I’m sorry but these reasons are infuriating to me (that’s really an understatement, but I’m trying to keep this PG). Their first reason speaks of lack of vision and will to reform the main industries driving these emissions: oil and cars. Their second reason speaks of their lack of any sense of responsibility for their enormous impact on global climate change. And finally their third reason is just total b— uh, farse since Mr. Bush Jr. has pulled so much money out of research and into the war (this encompasses their supposed research into energy alternatives), and without major economic incentives to shift from fossil fuels to alternative sources, nothing will happen in the bigger-more powerful-is-better consumer society that America is.

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So what does this all have to do with coral reefs? Of course, in the line-up of important things that climate change will affect, coral reefs are the least of people’s worries. Drastically shifting weather and climate will affect everyone’s lives and livelihoods and is probably at the top of concerns. Drowning of low-lying islands and coasts (such as parts of the Philippines) is pretty significant. However, coral reefs are a bit like the canaries in the coal mine. Ecosystems such as reefs are important economically as well as aesthetically, however, changes occurring in the system tell us that something is up. And in the past decades, we’ve seen increased and more intense disease and bleaching events. Bleaching is when corals lose their symbiotic algae and turn white because of extreme temperatures (mainly high temperatures) and/or UV. They can recover or die depending on the intensity of stressors. The death of the corals has led to the increase in abundance of other reef organisms such as macroalgae and sponges. Unfortunately, if the current projections on the state of the climate hold true, the chemistry of the ocean will also be affected and consequently the ability of calcified organisms like corals to produce their skeleton and grow. Some research suggests corals would essentially dissolve if CO2 emissions continue as they are and the ocean acidifies. Basically, some coral reef scientists project that corals will not be able to grow as fast or at all, much less build the reef to keep up with rising sea levels due to melting of the polar ice caps as the globe warms. This means no reefs as we know them today or no reefs at all.
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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

life and times of a marine biologist

Nearly a month ago, I came back from China again, from the same modeling course as last year (though this time I was doing some sort of facilitating). But again, I get the ribbing about being a “marine biologist” and the half-joking, half-sarcastic comments of how hard my life is. I don’t think you get the same teasing when you say you’re a terrestrial ecologist, but they’re also hiking around forests and mountains which are equivalent to diving really without having to worry about having enough air to breathe!

True, being a marine ecologist definitely has its perks, and a coral reef ecologist to boot. I do get to go diving, and in our lab we’re able to travel and see places, at least places with reefs to survey. But then, as with any other glamorous-sounding career paths, you still have to take the bad with the good. And that’s what eventually separates those who are seriously interested in becoming a marine biologist and pursuing the science, from those who have misguided visions of “the adventures” of diving with “cool” critters and such. For after the field work is done, then you’re scrunched in front of a desk, reading papers, programming, analyzing data, writing reports and proposals and papers……… Now, the real “fun” begins!

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Unfortunately, at the time I was leaving China, I was hurrying back so I could go on more of a fun reef survey that’s not related to my own project. Saying that after that one week in Antigua, I’d be back in my cubicle didn’t seem to make a difference. But hey, I’m not at all complaining!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

coral reefs? what's that?

It still astounds me when people ask me that question. A year ago, I attended this modeling (no, I’m not a ramp model, I mean scientific modeling) course in China where people working in artificial intelligence to anthropology to fluid dynamics had all gathered for a month. I had to present a little introduction about what I was studying and just launched into it by basically saying, “Hey I study coral reef ecology and I’m looking into the dynamics of the seaweeds that are overtaking a lot of reefs around the world.” I glanced around the room and saw the blank faces, I paused and asked, “Coral reefs anyone?” Heads shaking. Fortunately, I had pictures handy in my laptop and that helped some. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that people living on large land masses situated in temperate regions would have no experience with tropical systems such as reefs.

Coral reefs are the only biologically-made non-human structures on Earth that are visible from outer space.

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Astonishingly, they are built primarily by minute organisms: a symbiosis of an animal only at most a centimeter in size and a microscopic alga. The corals bud off to form every possible shape you can think of and through thousands of years eventually form the reef.

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They are the rainforests of the sea. As you dive under the waves, it’s a dazzling array of form, color and life that will surround you. This ecosystem harbors a huge diversity of life from tiny cells to great white sharks. They can only be found in the tropics and subtropics in the three oceans but they lure millions of people to experience the awe and wonder only coral reefs can offer.

I’m proud to say that I’m from the Philippines, which holds the greatest biodiversity not only in coral reefs but also in its rainforests. If you draw a line from the top of the Philippines to Indonesia in the southwest to Papua New Guinea and back to the start, you’ll have drawn a triangle that encompasses the most diverse area in the whole world. This is the “hotspot” of biodiversity. Here hundreds of coral species and thousands of fish species can be found. But it’s not only an enumeration of the species that makes reefs so special. A reef is not just the sum of its species, every nook and cranny has a fascinating story to tell about the web of relationships of the creatures you find. Most people want to see the huge fishes and sharks when they dive in reefs, but look closely and you’ll see so much more! Maybe the porcupine of the sea: the Crown-of-Thorns starfish.

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Or cleaning stations where predators drop their attitudes and open their mouths so little fish and shrimp can clean them. Or maybe the graceful dance of sea snakes.

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Then again, maybe you’ll learn that fish crap just like humans do! Reefs give so much to humans: food, ornamentals, medicine, protection from waves and so much more. But it’s a wonder in itself…..

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

take me to the funky town

It never fails to astound me the wide array of weirdness that nature comes up with! Who needs science fiction when reality is mind-boggling enough? If you look close enough and long enough a new world will open up. Of course, my experiences are biased towards the marine realm but I’m sure the terrestrial world evolved incredible forms and behaviors as well.

Damselfish attacking anyone who dare mess with its territory… all 5 inches of its length launched onto my mask … again… and again - they're either courageous or deluded neurotics; Little fish who rove the reef at night to eat then as dawn breaks returns to home sweet home – a sea cucumber’s anus; The unlikely goby fish and shrimp couple: one standing guard as the other digs out their home….. so many to mention really but one of my favorites is the amazing capacity for camouflage and mimicry that so many reef creatures have.

Can you see me now?

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You just do double-takes when your eyes focus and you realize that what you thought was just a seaweed or a rock was actually a living breathing moving thing! Whether to avoid being lunch or to get lunch, blending in is a great idea and the forms they take are breath-taking!

Friday, February 18, 2005

Then there are days when you just want to stay down... Posted by Hello

Underwater winter wonderland Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 17, 2005

field work whining

I should stop complaining about being out in the field even when conditions are the direst I could possibly work in. What other profession pays you to go diving even as the snowbirds from Washington to Ontario shovel out money to be herded like sheep through the water? But after sitting for four hours in a car, it is quite annoying to find out your vision underwater extends only to your knees, forget about taking pictures from five feet away. And so, another four hours must be endured the following day to make up for a lost one. But then, on the third day, the winds calmed and the waters sparkled, and that made up for the nastiness of the days past.