Ollie the Octopus on Coral Bleaching & the Great Barrier Reef

Octopus
Ollie the Octopus (photo by Cherilyn Chin)

Ollie the octopus here. I’m back to talk about more pressing problems that our oceans are facing. I previously covered ocean acidification and the
Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Today I wanted to discuss a recent study I was told about (I’m may be smart, but I still can’t read!). This scientific study concluded that in past 30 years, half of the Great Barrier Reef (off of Australia) is gone. While I live on the same small patch of coral reef inside my cozy den, I still need live coral reefs to house and attract the food I eat!

Why did the Great Barrier Reef die? There are many reasons why, including:

1. Tropical cyclones
2. Crown-of-thorn starfish
3. Pollution
4. Coral bleaching

Coral bleaching is when the symbiotic photosynthetic zooanthellae living in corals expel themselves. They essentially commit suicide. These zooanthellae are very important to the corals, as in return for shelter, they produce food (like plants on land) for the coral. Without the zooanthellae, the corals are more likely to starve to death and die (bleach).

What causes the zooanthellae to die? The most likely culprit is a rise in seawater temperature due to global warming. So what can be done to keep the coral from bleaching? The most important thing humans can do is reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.

The good news is that some scientists are trying to revive bleached coral reefs by implanting live coral fragments onto them. Scientists have also attracted new coral growth to many bleached areas by running low-voltage electricity through a metal grid.

Why are coral reefs important? They are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth. In fact, 1 in 4 fish found in the ocean lives on a coral reef! And coral reefs only cover 0.1 percent of the earth’s surface!

I’m out of time, so I will cover the other culprits of coral bleaching another day. Ollie the octopus, signing off.

Articles to read:
Half of Great Barrier Reef Lost in Past 3 Decades
Low-Voltage Electricity Reviving Sick Coral Reef

How Sea Otters Fight Climate Change

sea otters climate change
Sea otter wrapped up in kelp (photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium)

How do Sea Otters Fight Climate Change?

Sea otters fight climate change because they are a keystone species. They eat the sea urchins who graze on kelp. The kelp then flourishes and sequesters (sucks up) carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So sea otters indirectly fight climate change because without them the kelp would all be eaten by the sea urchins.

Here is one wild sea otter’s perspective on life in the kelp forest:

We sea otters have been called “global warming warriors”, but I do not know how to wield a sword! I have been known to use a big rock to open up my shelled prey though. It’s nice being one of the few animals that can use tools.

Kelp forests are one of the most productive ecosystems on earth. Instead of lush green foliage and lots of rainfall like the rainforest, the kelp forest has lush yellowish-brown seaweed and lots of wave action. Another difference is that rainforests are hot and humid, while kelp prefers colder waters (50 degrees F) but can live in temperatures up to 70 degrees F. It is one of the fastest growing plants on earth, as it can grow up to 2 feet in one day! Bamboo can also grow that fast on land.

I like living in the kelp forest because I am perfectly built to live there. My dense fur coat keeps me warm while I dive and catch my favorite seafood. My favorites include sea urchins, abalone (when I can find it!), and snails.

We sea otters like to wrap ourselves, or our pups in kelp fronds when we sleep. Some sea otters will even wrap a live crab in the kelp while they eat something else!

Go visit a kelp forest today, like at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Look for me and my buddies off the deck of the aquarium and on the virtual cams! And remember that sea otters help fight climate change!

Terry the Pteropod on Ocean Acidification

Hello, my name is Terry and I’m a pteropod.  What exactly is a pteropod?  Well, I’m also called a sea butterfly and I have been described as a “coffee bean with wings.”  What I really am is a marine snail that is about the size of a lentil, which is less than half an inch long.  My terrestrial snail cousins have a hard shell on the outside and a soft body inside, while my shell is on my inside and my gelatinous goo is on the outside.

Why am I important?  Well if polar bears are the poster animals for the melting polar ice caps due to global warming, then I am the poster invertebrate for ocean acidificationOcean acidification is also due to global warming as a rise in ocean temperatures can cause seawater pH to drop and become more acidic.

So how does the ocean become more acidic?  Well the same carbon dioxide emissions that warm our atmosphere and cause global warming ultimately become absorbed by the oceans.  The oceans cover more than 70% of the planet.  Carbon dioxide dissolves in water and make it more acidic, like soda.  While the seawater in the ocean is not turning into Coke, a sprinkle here and there of acidic water can have devastating effects on ocean life.

Ocean acidification will directly affect me, my descendents, and my planktonic peers as my inner shell will dissolve as the water around me becomes more acidic. I will die. While I have a fairly short lifespan of a few months (to years if I escape being eaten!) to begin with, it is the new gap in the bottom of the food chain that will be troubling.  Fish won’t have anything to eat, and the larger animals that eat them will be hungry too.  Imagine if on land all the grass and insects suddenly got wiped out.  Then everything from birds, deer, and bears would be scrambling around for new food sources or face extinction.

So, what can you do to help?  What you are hopefully already doing to curb global warming: driving less, carpooling, taking public transportation, and exploring the use of alternative energies.  The 3 R’s help too: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  Also support efforts to create Marine Protected Areas around the globe.  Less than 1% of the oceans are protected versus 12% of land being protected. Don’t forget to spread the word, as we can all make a difference by being informed!

UPDATE DECEMBER 2012: Scientists have found that pteropods are being affected by ocean acidification now, as opposed to a previous prediction of 2038. Link to article here