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Interviewee: Ku’ulei Rodgers, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology
Produced by Jack Penland– Edited by Christopher Bergendorff and Brad KlozaCopyright © ScienCentral, Inc
“The reefs are in grave danger,” explains Ku’ulei Rodgers, Assistant Researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology near Honolulu. She adds, “They’re going to change and, that if we don’t take action now… then we aren’t going to have coral reefs within the next century.” Since 1998 Rodgers has helped lead an on-going statewide effort to monitor Hawaii’s coral reefs called the Hawaii Coral Reef Assessment & Monitoring Program (CRAMP).
The citizen science effort is an opportunity for interested people to have the chance to participate in real scientific research into how a warming planet will lead to a warmer ocean and create problems for the world’s coral reefs. They participate in organized snorkeling inspections of reefs and are trained by scientists to spot how the reefs may be changing.
Coral reefs serve as a haven for ocean life, with some calling them the “Rainforests of the Sea” as a way of describing the wide varieties of life that call the reefs home. When asked what impact climate change will have on ocean life, Rodgers says, “There probably will be a big impact because there’ll be less fish. When there’s less corals, there’s less fish.”
The institute conducted some of the earliest research into the causes of coral bleaching, finding that, among other things, a warming ocean can kill off the algae that have a symbiotic relationship with the coral, which stresses the coral.
Now, Rodgers and others at the institute are focusing on what global warming, sea level rise and ocean acidification may mean for the coral reefs. Since scientists project that some of the excess Carbon Dioxide in the air will eventually be taken up by the ocean, leading to a more acidic ocean and turn the ocean more acidic, the researchers want to know what this will do to corals.
Rodgers holds a coral that has been in a tank with seawater conditions expected in the year 2100 and compares it with one grown in a nearby tank with today’s water. She notes, “You can see very little growth has occurred in the 10 months that it was in the tank.”
Another concern is what the acid might do to the specific algae called calcareous coralline algae that holds the coral reefs together and act as a substrate or base upon which corals can grow. Rodgers holds two rhodoliths, or colonies of the algae, one that lived in a tank filled with today’s water while the other spent the same amount of time in a tank with the acidic seawater expected in 2100. Gesturing with one she says, “This colony (grown in today’s water) grew and this colony (grown in the year 2100 seawater) dissolved.”
She adds, “This is what we’re expecting our reefs to do. We’re expecting them by the year 2100 not to be able to compete with a world that has very low pH (more acidic) and they will start dissolving and the foundations of the reef will fall apart.”
The citizen science project is one of a number around the country looking for local indicators of climate change. It is organized nationally by the Association of Science-Technology Museums (ASTC) and currently has a dozen science museums participating in their communicating climate change project. In Hawaii, it is sponsored in conjunction with Honolulu’s Bishop Museum and the worldwide organization, “Reef Check.” Reef Check describe there mission on their web site as, “to create a global network of volunteer teams trained in Reef Check’s scientific methods who regularly monitor and report on reef health.”
PUBLICATIONS: “Quantifying the Conditions of Hawaiian Coral Reefs,” Aquatic Conservation (in press), “Ocean Acidification and Calcifying Reef Organisms: a Mesocosm Investigationm” Coral Reefs, September 2008
RESEARCH FUNDED BY: National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water Quality, USGS, and the Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative and the National Ocean Service.Share Post: | Stumble | Share on Facebook | Tweet This |