By: Michelle Watson
For years the marine life along the coasts has been diminishing due to human interaction. In the early 1900’s it was found that railroad development, specifically in the Florida keys began to suffer. Now, another form of human interaction threatens the marine life that lives among America’s coast: tourism.
For places like the Florida Keys with abundant amounts of coral reefs, every year snorkelers, divers and boaters go out to see the beauty of the ocean. However, what most people don’t realize is that even this smallest amount of interaction can harm a coral reef. Tourist activities like snorkeling where people put on a face masks and go in the water can be harmful if people aren’t careful. There are other big threats to coral reefs other than tourism, such as overfishing, the use of electrical currents to fish, sedimentation and coastal runoff. (Brannet. Anna)
Coral bleaching is another reason why marine biodiversity is diminishing. Coral bleaching, is the act of corals pushing out zooxanthellae, a type of plankton out of their system. Zooxanthellae’s are the organisms that give corals their color. Coral bleaching happens in extreme temperatures, usually when the water really reaches 80 or 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem with coral bleaching is that the corals need the zooanthellae in order to survive. The zooanthellae makes food for the coral and corals provide a home for the zooxanthellae. Coastal water temperatures are gradually increasing because of global warming.
In the last 20 years, studies found that the rate of coral bleaching is going up with the rate of climate change. According to Professor Kristine Delong who works in LSU’s department of geography and anthropology, frequent coral bleaching did not begin until the 80s after an El Nino wiped out about majority of Panama’s coral reefs. El Nino is a current of warm water that accumulates near South America in the Pacific ocean usually affecting normal weather patterns. Since then there has been coral bleaching in happening every 3 years. Delong says that there are two ways to look at climate change: biologically and geologically.
“Biologist [oceanographers] look at climate change and go look, the climate is changing and geological [oceanographers] go yes, climate is changing – but that’s what it’s supposed to do every 50,000 years,” said Delong. Delong works more on the geological stand point of climate change and said that geologists understand climate change from chunks of years rather than a small period. For example, geological oceanographers study ice ages while biological oceanographers look at decades of information.
There is a difference between natural climate change and anthropogenic climate change and the rate of change. From a geological perspective it’s normal for the climate to change every 50,000 years or so with ice ages, however there is no set time in which they can happen and that this happens naturally. She says, however, because it is a natural process there is no way of knowing when it’s going to happen. But lately the aggregate rate of climate change is increasing affecting the marine habitats and ecosystems.
Christopher Harley a zoologist at the University of British Columbia conducted a study to measure the effects of climate change on mussels and barnacle habitats along coastal Vancouver. He found that the temperature of the water was much warmer in 2009 and 2010 as opposed to the 1950’s. The result was that had an effect on the mussel and barnacle population. It was less than was there.
Moreover, the increase of CO2 and in the atmosphere results in ocean acidification, which can dissolve animals made of calcium carbonate causing a decrease in corals, mussels, clams and other marine animals made of calcium carbonate. Ocean acidification is the decrease of the ph balance in the ocean. One way this process happens is the increase of CO2 in the waters.
The opinions of what causes the biggest impacts for marine biodiversity loss vary from one expert to another. Marine ecologist, specializing in near shore ecosystems and small scale fisheries, Richard Lilley said anthropogenic impacts are the biggest impacts for marine biodiversity loss. Anthropogenic refers to pollution damage and environmental damage from human interaction. In some cases, this human interaction can be as simple as waste run off.
“Tourism can be both a benefit and a detriment to marine biodiversity. For example, in regions with heavy recreational boat use the anchor damage caused to sea grass meadows can be vast, destroying important nursery habitat for a number of fish and shellfish species.” Lilley said.
Sea grass is crucially important to the growth of marine life and stability of marine life. It helps not only small fish but also bigger marine animals by providing food. The manatee eats sea grass while the bottlenose dolphin eats fish that live in the sea grass. Additionally, many animals live there such as mussels, clams, and starfish to name a few. With the damage of sea grass comes the damage of a whole marine ecosystem (“Importance of Sea Grass”).
In the Florida Keys, it has been found that improper septic tanks would flow from the septic tank into the waters of the Florida Keys. In some cases researchers have found that the amount of human waste has been a significant factor to black band disease, a disease that attacks corals. Black band disease can be linked to human pathogen fecal waste.
Delong can remember other things that improper septic tanks could harm. “I can remember being a little girl and wanting to go to the beach [in the Florida keys] and not being able to go because of the amount of fecal matter in the waters.”
The question now is what to do to stop marine biodiversity loss. For one, tourists should be more aware of what they’re doing and how just simply touching a coral or an animal can hurt. There is the issue of keeping people happy, along with the issue of preserving marine life. To learn more about what the Florida keys are doing look here. Additionally people should educate themselves on climate change and the affects it can have not just on land, but in the ocean as well.
Brannet, Anna P., and Thomas B. Davin. Coral Reefs : Biology, Threats and Restoration. N.p.: n.p., n.d. NOVA Science Publishers, 2009. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.