22 October 2012

Death and life of stars

Ninth in a series of notes and comments on The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

Chapter 3: The Crown of Thorns Starfish

page 41: The press cried apocalypse: the crown of thorns starfish hit the headlines again earlier this month. [1] An analysis of data shows to inexorable decline in coral cover in the Great Barrier Reef since 1985. [2] According to the researchers, tropical storms and bleaching account for about 60% of this decline and the crown-of-thorns the other 40%. In the absence of the starfish, the researchers think, coral cover would grow by 0.89% a year, despite pressures imposed by bleaching and cyclones, rather than shrink by about 0.5% a year as it has been. The best way to reduce the infestation would be to reduce agricultural runoff, which provides nutrients for their larvae.

page 49: most reefs at risk of destruction by 2050: In July of this year, Roger Bradbury of the Australian National University published an article in The New York Times arguing the coral reefs have become "zombie ecosystems, neither dead nor truly alive in any functional sense, and on a trajectory to collapse within a human generation." The following day Andy Revkin hosted responses on his Dot Earth blog, all of them worth reading, from John Bruno, Randy Olson and others. Carl Safina concluded:
The science is clear that reefs are in many places degraded and in serious trouble. But no science has, or likely can, determine that reefs and all their associated non-coral creatures are unequivocally, equally and everywhere, completely doomed to total non-existence. In fact, much science suggests they will persist in some lesser form. Bleak prospects have been part of many dramatic turnarounds, and, who knows, life may, as usual—with our best efforts—find a way.
And, indeed, remarkable coral species such as Leptoseris troglodyta do find a way.

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