Monthly Archives: June 2014

Let’s hear it for El Nino (bad boy!)

Mother Earth is pregnant, and we know it’s a boy. The next El Nino (“male child” in Spanish) is predicted to arrive this year, and its warming of the Pacific is tragic news for corals and other temperature-sensitive creatures. Think of El Nino as a bad boy that sets animals on fire.Fire Hands Couple

This month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA) issued an official watch for El Nino, but don’t hold your breath. That baby will gestate for months before being delivered conclusively. Weather geeks will be salivating for months over maps and statistics to reveal the global pattern, much like economists freak out with quarterly indicators.

The oceanic warming trend is of particular concern to the future of coral reefs, because they were blasted during the last strong El Nino in 1997 to 1998, when large percentages of corals perished worldwide (resulting in an estimated loss of 16% of all coral reefs). The map below from NOAA shows the projected risk to corals until September this year.

This map shows areas at risk of coral bleaching due to warmer seas this year (from NOAA Coral Reef Watch).

This map shows areas at risk of coral bleaching due to warmer seas this year (from NOAA Coral Reef Watch).

When summer returns to the Southern Hemisphere later this year, you can bet that the map’s colors will migrate south. For the near term, though, the most severe warming appears clustered around the Pacific coast of Northern America, a place with relatively few tropical coral reefs.

For the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, the warming impacts could be delayed by about one year if the pattern holds from the 1997 to 1998 El Nino event. If so, the summer of 2015 could bring another devastating bleaching event to Caribbean coral reefs.

Warm water could hit the Atlantic with or without El Nino in the Pacific. In 2005, Caribbean reefs experienced severe bleaching and the highest recorded temperatures in the region, even though the El Nino effect was considered weak.

NOAA has established a special Coral Reef Watch based on satellite data to keep a close eye on changes in oceanic temperatures. Why? Reefs need to be watched closely because they are under great stress, and a major disturbance could push many reefs over the edge and into the metaphorical abyss.

Keep watching.



Last chance to support Swim Around Key West (aka operation shark bait)

A marathon is 26.2 miles on land, so what would be the equivalent in the water? The answer remains debatable, but this Saturday I will find out how long it takes to swim 12.5 miles.

The 12.5 mile swim makes a complete circle of the island of Key West.

The 12.5 mile swim makes a complete circle of the island of Key West.

The Swim Around Key West is the longest swim I’ve ever attempted. I’m also using this moment of temporary insanity to raise funds for climate change activism. All donations will support 350 South Florida, a local chapter of I serve as the chapter’s current president.

To make a pledge, email At $2 per miles, that’s $25.

My goal is to break 6 hours. I’ll have a kayak escort, and I’ll use Aquaman’s superpowers to lasso whales and repel sharks. There’s a very cool development of tracking a great white shark that already swam around Key West, but I don’t expect to see Katherine.

Guess I’ll have to swim extra fast!

The 12.5 mile swim makes a complete circle of the island of Key West.

Thesis defense this Thursday

All are welcome to attend my defense on Thursday morning. The working abstract is below.

Date: June 12, 2014

Department: Earth and Environment

Time: 10:00 a.m.

Major Professor: Dr. Pallab Mozumder

Place: ECS 349, main campus of Florida International University



Stakeholder Perceptions and Preferences for Coral Reef Restoration and Sustainable Resource Management

by James W. Harper

The Florida Reef and associated human community form a unique socio-ecological system. While this system represents great value to society, it is exposed to high levels of vulnerability. Despite intense study of its elements, the system lacks conceptual integrity, its management is fragmented, and user valuation remains unclear. A survey using contingent valuation methods investigated stakeholders’ attitudes and how much they are willing to pay for sustainable seafood, coral reef restoration, and research funding for coral reefs in southeastern Florida. Respondents expressed angst about climate change and reef conditions, and they connected reef degradation to land-based pollution and water quality. Regression analysis revealed status (income, education) as weak, indirect predictors of behavior, age as a moderating influence, and environmental and emotive factors as strong, direct predictors. One’s relative attachment to ecosystems, such as coral reefs, is theorized as a motivation that displaces the expectations of traditional economic theory.