The Hidden Treasures Of A Coral Reef

The Hidden Treasures Of A Coral Reef

A mesmerizing hotspot of marine diversity, coral reefs transcend beauty. What is it about these elusive underwater habitats that makes them so unique? More importantly, what can society do to conserve coral reefs?

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You're about to take the plunge of a lifetime. As you break the crystal clear surface of the Caribbean Sea, you immediately notice the wealth of colors beneath you. As you swim closer and closer, a vibrantly orange, white-striped creature glides by. You are transfixed by its effortless allure. Your eyes follow the Clownfish's movements as it wades towards a bundle of tube-like protrusions flowing in all directions. The Clownfish slips into the Sea Anemone with ease. Out of nowhere, a school of electric blue fish interrupts your concentration as they wiggle past you. The Caribbean Queen Angelfish. These fish prefer the warmer waters of the Western Atlantic Ocean. The Caribbean Sea is the perfect habitat, maintaining just the right temperature. Queen Angelfish diet on sponges, but also enjoy tunicates, algae and plankton. Some even settle for jellyfish. As your eyes survey the reef, they latch onto a colony of spiny, globular shapes, grouped together on the sea floor. Although they appear docile, Sea Urchins are quite active. These animals, belonging to the Echinoderm family, use their transparent "tube feet" to maneuver. Urchins are a favorite prey to predators such as crabs, sea otters, and eels. As a defense mechanism, Sea Urchins use their sharp spines to their advantage, some even being poisonous in select species.

As you stop to appreciate the wealth of diversity that surrounds, you can't help but wonder what support's it all...

The strikingly colorful appearance of corals in a reef is not actually the coral itself; it is the color of an algae, known as Zooxanthellae. This algae provides key nutrients to the coral. In return, the algae is provided protection and an environment to live in.

Unfortunately, with rising ocean temperatures due to global climate change, Zooxanthellae algae become stressed and leave their corals to venture off to a new habitat. Without the mutualistic relationship with the algae, the corals go from their vibrant coloration to a pale, white. As a result, the corals become more susceptible to disease and eventually might die off. This phenomenon is called "coral bleaching". In 2005, from the northern Antilles to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the Caribbean suffered a massive bleaching event. It lost half of it's reefs in one year (NOAA). One can't help but wonder, is there anything we can do to reverse what is happening to coral reefs? One way to start is by becoming informed on possible harmful actions on our oceans.

Anything from safe boating practices to recycling can make an impact. Of course, the issue of coral reef conservation is larger than a single person's actions. International marine policy will be a major driver in the future of corals. That said, being informed on the very real impacts of global climate change is a significant way to make these essential changes.

Your diving trip is coming to its conclusion. As your head breaks the surface of the Caribbean waters, you smile to yourself, as you reflect on your adventure. The shy gaze of the Clownfish, the sly movements of the Angelfish, the eccentric-looking Urchins. These are all treasures that are worth protecting.

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Are Plastic Straws Really Killing Sea Turtles?

It's no secret that plastic isn't great for the environment, but how sensationalized is this topic actually becoming?

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When I first saw a video of a sea turtle getting a plastic drinking straw removed from its nostril, I was obviously upset like any other viewer would be. I care a lot about the environment and about animal life and it was upsetting to see that a product of human consumption and ignorant waste was destroying precious parts of our world. I wholeheartedly jumped on the bandwagon of "plastic straws kill sea turtles!!!" but only knew about the issue from this video and what I heard from people or saw on social media. The whole topic of plastic waste into the ocean remained in the back of my mind until the recent pledge of Starbucks to stop using plastic straws in stores by 2020 reminded me of the issue.

As the topic of plastics and their pollution of the environment (largely the oceans) has become so recently powerful I decided to do some research of my own. If I was going to tell people to stop using plastic straws because they were killing sea turtles, I wanted to be sure that I wasn't just repeating everything I heard from social media.

Turns out, plastic straws are hurting sea turtles and other marine life, but a lot of what I thought about plastic waste was exaggerated (at least from what I had heard from others). Sea birds are the most impacted creature by plastic straws, not sea turtles. About 1 million or more seabirds die every year from ingesting plastic straws and choking on them. In research from recent scientific studies, 80-90% of seabirds have some kind of plastic inside of their stomachs. Also, the ecological footprint that plastic straws alone leave on the planet is actually pretty small compared to food waste or fossil fuels.

However, all the buzz about sea turtles may come from the fact that globally 86% of sea turtle species are known to be affected by plastic debris. Overwhelming amounts of plastic garbage in the ocean have caused a steady decline of the leatherback sea turtle over the past several years, so much that they have been placed on the endangered species list. Plastics can hinder eating and consumption, breathing abilities, and even reproductive capabilities of all kinds of sea turtles.

So while plastic straws may not be killing sea turtles in hordes, they are killing sea birds, and plastic overall have caused huge and deadly effects to many sealife species. We have known that plastic is bad for the environment and the oceans for quite a while, given the fact that the Great Garbage Patch was discovered almost 20 years ago, so it's more than time to start caring about the problem. If we can eliminate single-use plastic straws that aren't biodegradable, we can stop using other single-use plastics and make a better effort to reduce our harmful impacts on the oceans. Individually, we can move towards small changes, which can move our society to a more sustainable and healthy place. If you are more interested in this topic, I would suggest reading about how you can make a change or looking at this article and checking out this scientific journal.

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Vinicius Amano

@viniciusamano

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Being Sustainable Is Hard But It's Not Impossible

Although we've all heard of climate change and have witnessed the disastrous effects that humans have had on the environment, it still seems like most people are not subscribing to the ideals of sustainability.

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Sustainability is a tricky term. Most people that hear about it eventually put in the back of their minds, the same place they put "student loans" and "crippling depression." Most people know that to adhere to this ideal would mean to change how they live.

Sustainability is about adopting behaviors and systems that will ensure that the Earth is around for many generations after ours. Sustainability aims to preserve the Earth in terms of seven generations ahead. Seven generations after ours and societies on Earth will be using entirely different systems than what we do now, therefore, we should start this process now to ensure that they will be able to live comfortably and sustainably.

This is where most people tune out, understandably so. It's hard for us to think about the implications of our actions and how they will affect life on Earth much after our own deaths. It suddenly seems like an incomprehensible problem that no one person can ever solve.

"My actions won't make a difference," most people say, convinced that just because they stop eating meat or buying plastic or start drinking from paper straws, that nothing will change. However, what they fail to consider is how their actions will influence the minds of others around them, and one person who stops eating meat or using plastic sends a ripple effect through the people surrounding them. One person making lifestyle changes in the name of sustainability leads others to suddenly consider, "maybe I should eat less meat?" or "maybe I won't use single-use plastics anymore?"

The idea is not that any one person picking up plastic on the beach is going to save the planet, but rather that through education and awareness, we will all take small steps to preserve our home. Large groups of people all taking small steps leads to big changes, and politics and the economy will follow the demand of the people.

The most difficult thing for most people to do is to adopt those small behavioral changes. Not everyone can afford to stop eating meat, but everyone can afford to opt out of single-use plastics. Buying a personal water bottle is one easy way to do this. Stop buying plastic water bottles just to throw them away. If you need to buy them, make sure to recycle them. Instead of taking plastic silverware and straws from restaurants, bring your own reusable set.

Understandably, most of you are already cringing. It's hard to go against the grain and commit to living a plastic-free lifestyle for the sake of sustainability. And what about when you go to Chipotle with your zero-waste kit and somebody asks you a question about why you have that? Fear or convincing themselves that it's "inconvenient" will keep most of you from adopting these little changes that, over time, make a huge difference in the amount of plastic we put in our oceans.

Although we can't all be leaders of huge sustainability efforts to clean our oceans or buy an electric car, we can all make small changes to mitigate this tragic problem. On our current track, the last half of our lives will be starkly different from the first half, for the worse. Educate yourself and be part of the solution instead of the problem.

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