Category Archives: extinction

‘Holokauston’ of the Sea

The ocean is being burned alive. We might be next.

(I wish this were a joke. I just can’t find any humor in it.)

Ocean warming is killing the greatest places on Earth for life: the coral reefs. This slow warming during the past century has reached its tipping point, and we can now predict with clarity that an entire ecosystem is dying before our eyes.

As the scientist in this PBS report says, we could lose our reefs within 10 years. Predictions like this used to give us 100 years or so to save them, and that timeframe seems manageable, as if the next generation could solve this dilemma with ingenuity. But time is shrinking, and we might need to start thinking about living in a post-reef world—if we can live at all.

Humans have never existed without reefs, and we have no reference point for losing them. We have caused extinctions of singular species, but we’ve never come close to the extinction of an entire ecosystem. It is quite logical to assume that as the ocean and its shallow reefs go, so go we. An indirect, yet self-inflicted Holocaust.

The Greek word Holokauston refers to a burnt animal sacrifice. The slow burning of the reefs has the potential to sacrifice hundreds of coral species, thousands of fish species, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of associated species. We simply do not know the full scope of diversity on the world’s reefs, but they are estimated to contain a quarter of all species in the ocean.

How can such a rich system be dying? It’s inconceivalbe. Yet we know it is happening, we know why, and we know how to stop it.

It’s bloody murder.

Every thinking, breathing person needs to take a moment to decide: Do I care about people who will be alive within 10 years? If so, you must start caring, and caring deeply, about the ocean.

Any person with a heart and a brain will be outraged. You will go into the streets, get mad as hell, and get rid of any politician or business that is tone deaf on issues of climate change, global warming, and fossil fuel pollution. A climate denier, or a convenient “skeptic” who knows better, will be judged by history as complicit in murder.

I’m still not laughing.

With time running out, we probably have about 1 year left to turn this ship around. Even if you’re not convinced about the timing, is it worth the risk? Do you want to look back in a few years and judge yourself, and the human race, a complete failure?

You’ve got 2 marches on Saturdays to join this month.

Stand up for justice. The Holokauston of the Sea can, and must, be stopped.

 

 

 

 

 

Planetary change, not just climate

It’s more than climate change we face. Much, much more.

DOWNER WARNING: Do not read this if you’re feeling blue. Come back after you’ve put on your rainbow coat of many colors. 

photo 2

Trampling on life is ultimately self-destructive.

Climate change is as real as cancer, and it is caused by us. Just as we have the power to quit smoking, we have the power to quit burning fuel. We can do this.

But the imbalance we face is not just one, discrete cancer on Earth. It is akin to multiple cancers, multiple diseases. It is a full-on, multi-symptom, doctor’s check up from hell.

It could be worse, I guess, because daily life goes on. Yet we’re distracted and dumb. Our planetary IQ is dismally low. People are foolishly debating the reality of climate change, while other, planetary changes demand a growing awareness–not a stifled second opinion.

Don’t even listen to the quacks. Keep learning about cancer number 1, climate change, while expanding your knowledge to cancers 2 through 25 of the environment, such as ocean pollution, the depletion of soil, and the extinction crisis. Listen to what the planet is telling us.

What’s Going On

We need to find new terms to deal with our syndrome. Some scientists have agreed on a new geological term of Anthropocene, meaning that the dust of the Earth is being shaped by humanity. That’s a good start.

I’m using analogies to human disease, because we can understand them intuitively. We can conceive of Mother Earth as a person with a deadly illness. We know what a sick person needs and doesn’t need. She doesn’t have a chance if the air she breathes is toxic, the water she drinks is poisoned, and the food she eats lacks nutrition.

She is faltering. As Mother Earth goes, so go we.

Do we call it a syndrome? Does Mother Earth have AIDS? She is metaphorically HIV-positive, and we desperately need a cure. Just as we fight for a cure to real AIDS, we must learn how to fight for a cure to planetary disease.

Planetary change is happening on the ground, just as climate change is happening in the atmosphere. At the core of the change is humanity’s imbalance with Nature.

This concept is really hard to digest. I’m not even sure what to call it. Maybe you have an idea that will give us a vocabulary to deal with it.

Climate change is very important and very real. It is part of planetary change caused by humans. The sooner we accept it and learn how to deal with it, the sooner we can move on to deal with the other cancers we are unwittingly creating.

Ignorance is death.

 

 

More problems, less money in Biscayne

With all the world’s problems, who cares about a safe and secure national park?

Plenty of people do, and in this age of political divisiveness, we could all use something that everyone agrees on. National parks, like Everglades and Biscayne, make Floridians and Americans proud, and the possibility of losing them would certainly rally people around a worthy cause.

To do something now, contribute to my campaign to Swim for Biscayne National Park, at http://www.gofundme.com/Biscayne.

In fact, we are losing these two parks. Almost all of the land in both parks will be underwater within a few decades, due to rising seas, and strong hurricanes could be devastating in the shorter term. Then there’s ocean acidification.

Reef Rot

Have you seen this sign? Most visitors don't, because they arrive by boat.

Have you seen this sign? Most visitors don’t, because they arrive by boat.

The coral reefs within Biscayne National Park, part of the extensive Florida Reef system, face 15 rounds of punches from all angles. The changing chemistry of the sea, cause by the absorption of too much carbon dioxide from pollution, puts a slow chokehold on animals such as corals. It will take decades to determine, but acidification could prove to be the strongest force of extinction ever seen by humans.

This year, if predictions about El Nino come true, all coral reefs could be dealing with a devastating warming event. These events only need a few abnormally warm weeks to turn living corals into skeletons. The last major bleaching event in Florida was nearly a decade ago, and the likelihood of the next one keeps rising. If not this year, definitely plan on next year for more coral bleaching and disease. And it will keep getting worse, with no relief from climate change in sight.

Boating in Mud

Beautiful water hides the scars underneath, from boats hitting the shallows.

Beautiful water hides the scars underneath, caused by boats hitting the shallows.

Clueless boaters are a daily threat to Biscayne National Park. Propellers rip through the shallow seagrass and leave scars that are common sights throughout the park.

Fishers leave behind plenty of hooks and line, the most common type of marine debris in the park. When I was snorkeling there in 2013, I came across a large net lodged in a reef. It was too difficult to dislodge, but the authorities were notified.

Just this month, an enormous 6,000 pound plastic pipe washed up on Elliott Key. What a nightmare.

Just as litter accumulates, natural things decrease. Intensive fishing creates ecosystem imbalances by removing large numbers of creatures. For years, Biscayne National Park has been fighting to create zones closed to fishing, but local politicians and their fishing buddies won’t have it.

Money is Tight

You would be wrong to assume that a national park prevents hunting (such as fishing) and that is has plenty of money to operate. The budget for Biscayne National Park is around $4 million annually to fund all its programs and upkeep, about 40 employees, and more than 500,000 visitors. Although it has no entrance fee, Biscayne National Park would only need to charge $8 per visitor to cover its entire budget. Without such fees, it relies on taxes and other sources of income that may prove unreliable.

The park isn’t going anywhere today, but at the same time, its future and its prosperity are not guaranteed. Little Orphan Biscayne needs people to care for it as much as they care about the Everglades. Where are the billions of dollars for restoration of the Florida Reef? Where are the laws to prevent boaters and fishers from hacking the ecosystem to pieces?

Swimmers, stand up and take stock of Biscayne National Park. Maybe our strokes could bring new life and needed attention to this underwater treasure.

Rally posters ready to rock the pine rocklands

Love the creativity! Thanks to Georgina and all the volunteers working on Rally for the Rocklands. See you tomorrow, 2 pm at Zoo Miami parking lot.

Did you know that 25% of all native plants in South Florida, more than 350 native species, live in the pine rocklands around the zoo? Amazing.

photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 1

Piney or Pine Rocklands, it’s dying

Today, two plants that cling to life in one of the world’s most endangered habitats were added to the U.S. list of endangered species. Less than one month ago, two butterflies endemic to the same habitat were also listed.

This endangered Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly depends on Pine Rocklands to survive. (USFWS)

This endangered Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly depends on Pine Rocklands to survive. (USFWS)

The ecosystem is called Pine Rocklands (although grammatically it should be Piney, but whatever). My article about it was just published, and it outlines the scandal involving Walmart and the last large patch in urban Miami-Dade County.

Yes, it’s bad, and it looks like it’s getting worse and worse for the plants and animals that depend on this shriveling habitat.

People in southern Miami-Dade can voice their opinions about proposed developments in Rocklands at a town hall meeting on Thursday, September 11 at 7 p.m., sponsored by the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations. The location is Kendall’s “Little House” at 8625 SW 124 Avenue.

 

Hall of Ocean Extinction

Confirming extinction in the ocean is difficult, and my researched list is here. To help you visualize that list, below are photos collected to represent each species.

Please realize that this list of 19 represents only extinctions confirmed by science, and there are likely hundreds of unrecorded extinctions. Still, it is worth seeing some of what we have lost.

1. Steller’s Sea Cow (click for funny video)

MSU V2P1a - Hydrodamalis gigas painting.png

Extinct 1768  (Wikipedia)

2. Sea Mink

3. Caribbean Monk Seal

Cms-newyorkzoologicalsociety1910.jpg

Extinct 1952  (Wikipedia)

4. Japanese Sea Lion

Zalophus japonicus.JPG

Extinct 1950s  (Wikipedia)

5. New Zealand grayling

Prototroctes oxyrhynchus.jpg

Extinct 1930s  (Wikipedia)

6.Green Wrasse

(no image found; related species shown is Anampses elegant).

Extinction 2010, assumed but "data deficient."

Extinction 2010, assumed but “data deficient”  (Wikipedia)

7. Great Auk

Keulemans-GreatAuk.jpg

Extinct 1852  (Wikipedia)

8. Labrador Duck

Labrador Ducks AMNH.jpg

Extinct 1875  (Wikipedia)

9. Large St Helena Petrel (no representative images found)

Extinct 1500s  (http://overfishing.org)

Extinct 1500s  (http://overfishing.org)

10. Small St Helena Petrel  (no representative images found)

Extinct 1500s  (http://overfishing.org)

Extinct 1500s  (http://overfishing.org)

11. Pallas’s Cormorant

ExtbPallusCormorantovw.jpg

Extinct 1950s  (Wikipedia)

12. Auckland Islands Merganser

Auckland Islands Merganser.jpg

Extinct 1910  (Wikipedia)

13. Canary Islands Oystercatcher

Canarian Oystercatcher.jpg

Extinct 1940s  (Wikipedia)

14. Eelgrass limpet

Extinction date unknown  (http://www.sydneyshellclub.net)

Extinction date unknown (http://www.sydneyshellclub.net)

15. Rocky shore limpet (no image found; related species shown is Lottia atrata)

Collisella atrata 002.jpg

Extinct 1860s  (Wikipedia)

16. Periwinkle Littoraria flammea (no image found; related species shown is Littoraria cingulata)

Littoraria cingulata 002.jpg

Extinct 1840  (Wikipedia)

17. Horn Snail (no image found; related species shown is Cerithideopsilla djadjariensis)

Kawa-ai080623.jpg

Extinct 1935  (Wikipedia)

18. Bennett’s seaweed

Vanvoorstia bennettiana.jpg

Extinct 1890s  (Wikipedia)

19. Turkish towel algae (no image found; related species shown is Gigartina serrata) 

Extinction date unknown  (http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu)

Extinction date unknown (http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu)

20. Most likely next extinction in ocean: a limpet

Represented by Diodora italica

Diodoraitalica.jpg

Survival TBD

Diodoraitalica” by Wilson44691Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Florida Reef Tract gets the “special” treatment

The Sunshine State’s many exceptional natural features have made it a tourism mecca and standout in the oeuvre of postcards, but promoters may want to bury the latest description of its coral reefs. The most comprehensive report on the state of Caribbean coral reefs calls Florida’s reefs “a special case”– and not in the good way.

A promotional cartoon paints a rosy image of the world's first underwater park.

A promotional cartoon paints a rosy image of the world’s first underwater park. (http://www.fla-keys.com)

“Florida has seen a sharp decline in its coral reef in the past 40 years,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of Global Marine and Polar Programme at the IUCN, the world’s authority on extinction and publisher of the report on Caribbean reefs. “Improved management, particularly of reef fish and regulation of coastal use can help reverse this trend,” he says.

Decadal decline applies to most Caribbean reefs, but the report singles out the Florida Reef for its harshest assessment.

Florida represents the “worst-case scenario” where “intensity of human use and environmental impacts greatly exceeds that of any other region in the wider Caribbean, if not the world,” states the IUCN report, Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012. The report analyzed 35,000 reef surveys to detect patterns across the region. The report names Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands, in addition to Florida, as places lacking healthy corals.

Six million people are sandwiched in between the Everglades and the Florida Reef (Florida Ocean Alliance 2013)

In southern Florida, six million people are sandwiched in between the Everglades and the Florida Reef, in red. (Florida Ocean Alliance 2013)

One trend emphasized in the report is that positive human intervention can control negative impacts. “The Gulf of Mexico has some of the worst and some of the best reefs in the Caribbean. The key determining factor for this is the way the reefs have been managed,” says Lundin.

Florida’s reefs have been managed very poorly, the report contends, and “inadequate governance and regulations have resulted in the critical endangerment of an entire coral reef ecosystem.”

Endangered Reefs, Made of Coral

Only in recent years have entire ecosystems been considered candidates for mass extinction. According to the IUCN, the wider Caribbean region of reefs qualifies as “endangered” under its new criteria for ecosystems.

In 2006, two major Caribbean corals were listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. In 2009, Florida passed the Coral Reef Protection Act, and it establishes fines for boat strikes that damage coral.

The threatened staghorn and elkhorn species are stony corals that have constructed much of the Florida Reef. The theory of reef extinction being played out in Florida and elsewhere is that if reef-building corals die out, the system dies with it. Coral reef ecosystems host the greatest concentration of species in the ocean.

In a Name

The Florida Reef contains 455 square miles of reef area and stretches across the Florida Keys, Miami, and north of Palm Beach into Martin County. This northern section along the mainland lies outside the protection of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, established in 1990.

Unlike the Everglades, its sister ecosystem on land, the system of reefs that dot the southeastern Florida coastline does not have an iconic name. Scientists call it a “tract,” but I prefer to drop that ugly term and dub it the “Florida Reef.” Even better would be the term “Great Florida Reef,” but its recent history and status are anything but great.

A timeline for the Florida Reef within the IUCN report demonstrates that the number of new protective measures has waned since the end of the twentieth century. Note that a no-take area, banning all fishing and related activities, first appeared in 2001. These no-take areas comprise six percent of the reef area in the Florida Keys.

The list below revises the report’s original timeline by removing natural disasters and including only protective measures.

Timeline of Protective Measures for the Florida Reef

(adapted from Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs)

 

1935: Dry Tortugas National Monument established by President Roosevelt

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