Great Barrier Reef

Baby Fish in Stag Coral

I should probably do my Australia posts in the order that they happened. And yet, I am too excited about my underwater pictures from the trip to even start looking through the above-water stuff.

Amazing Corals

So, it would seem that I am starting with The Great Barrier Reef.

Bleached Coral

The Reef actually has more bleaching than Guam. If I had to guess, I would say that the shallower water must be the reason (shallow water heats up faster.) Guam is next to the Marianas Trench, so I imagine the overall water temperature in our region might be colder, even though we are on the equator.

Giant Clam

You might think it is the types of coral, but it’s definitely not. Nearly all the corals I saw on the Great Barrier Reef were the same as the corals in Guam. There were only a few differences.

Turtle

Some of the fish I saw on the reef were bigger, which I would guess is because I was snorkeling in deeper water there than what I usually would (since I get better pictures in shallow water.)

Jellyfish

There were some huge parrot fish, as well as some large cod and sea bass. I saw a few sharks as well. In Guam I usually see black-tipped reef sharks, but on the reef I saw white-tipped reef sharks. So, that was new.

Rainbow Parrot Fish

It was jellyfish season, and I definitely didn’t know that when I booked the trip! We had to wear stinger suits the whole time.

Angel Fish and Giant Clam

I have actually never seen so many jellyfish in one place. However, the stinger suits protected us, and no one got stung except the guy who took his hood off.

Christmas Tree Worms in Coral.

My YouTube Channel has lots of footage of the Reef and all the cool things we saw. I definitely recommend taking a look, if you like the under water world.

Corals

The tour guides told me that the best time to see the reef is in August. That is the middle of winter in the southern hemisphere, so I would have thought it would be stormy then.

Love the blue stag coral

However, they say the summer is far more stormy, and the good visibility is definitely in August.

Reef Squid

So if you go to The Great Barrier Reef, I can recommend Carins Dive Center (who I went through) and their boat The Kangaroo Explorer (which I did the live abroad package on for three days and two nights.) But I can’t recommend going in January, because it was stormy and it was also jellyfish season.

Note: Click the links in this post to see the videos on my YouTube Channel.

Angel Fish Couple

 

How Coral Bleaches

Healthy Coral

Above you can see a picture of healthy coral that has not been bleached. This picture was taken at Gab Gab Beach on Big Navy Base Guam, on April 21st, 2017.

Now then, last time I posted I talked about how coral is a living organism comprised of smaller organisms. These smaller organisms are called Polyps, and they are tiny animals. This is why you should never touch or stand on coral, because it crushes the tiny animals that it is made of.

This time, I want to talk about how coral bleaches.

First, remember that a coral is like an apartment complex. The building is made of calcium secreted by the coral, and the people who live inside are called polyps.

This is what a polyp looks like.

26994-004-9E1DBF8B

As we discussed last time, a coral polyp can eat food from the water that it catches with its tentacles.

However, it is like a Venus Fly Trap: Even though a Venus Fly Trap eats flies, it still needs to absorb sunlight so that it’s chloroplasts can metabolize that light into food for the plant. Without sunlight, it would die.

The specialized chloroplast cells inside of a coral polyp are called zooxanthellae. Even though the coral is perfectly capable of catching food from the water with its tentacles, each polyp still needs its zooxanthellae to metabolize sunlight and produce a reliable food source for the polyp.

4.01_R01_G02-full_1

The zooxanthellae are actually all different colors, and they are what gives coral its color. The polyps themselves are clear.

The problem is that the zooxanthellae are sensitive to temperature. If it gets too hot, the zooxanthellae will die. When they die, the polyp expels them into the water, and thus, it loses its color.

This is why coral that is bleached is not yet considered “dead.” The polyp is still alive, but it has lost its zooxanthellae.

coral bleaching chart.jpg

Rare cases have been reported where a coral bleached, but then the polyps were able to catch new algae cells and survive. However, the unfortunate truth is that once a coral bleaches, the polyps are very likely to starve to death and die.

Once the polyps die, the calcium skeleton is all that is left. This skeleton then becomes host to parasitic lifeforms that eventually break it down.

I moved to Guam is August of 2015. In the time that I have been here, I have seen the coral in Tumon Bay bleach and die, as well as the coral inside the reef at Tanguissen Beach.

Gab Gab August 22nd, 2017

However, those are shallow reefs. I understand how they got too hot and their coral began to bleach.

On the other hand, Gab Gab Reef on the Big Navy Base is much deeper. Most of the coral sits at around 20 feet deep, depending on the tide.

And rather than being in an enclosed reef the way the coral in Tumon Bay and Tanguissen is, the coral at Gab Gab is in a very deep harbor.

Gab Gab August 22nd, 2017

I never imagined that the coral at Gab Gab would bleach.

At least, not before I left here in September of 2018. And yet, the images that you are seeing now are from Gab Gab, and they were taken just a few months after the picture of healthy coral at the top of this post.

This is what bleached coral looks like. This is what a reef looks like when it is dying.

Gab Gab August 22nd, 2017

The reef at Gab Gab was truly amazing. It was filled with an incredible diversity of life, and a wide variety of corals. And now, before my eyes, it is dying.

I can’t really tell you the emotional toll of watching corals die.

I know that these are structures that took generations of polyps to build. Many are hundreds of years old. Gab Gab has so many huge, ancient corals that are each home to hundreds of fish.

Gab Gab August 22nd, 2017

It is an environment that took nature so many lifetimes to create. And yet, it is dying in the span of one Navy Man’s tour of duty on Guam. (My husband Rich.)

By the time the military sends my husband to a new port, I will have witnessed the loss of a huge percentage of the coral reefs on Guam. Just four years… and yet, I am seeing so much death.

There is no eulogy solemn enough or beautiful enough to pay tribute to the coral reefs of Guam. They were some of the most amazing things that I have ever seen, and I wish that I could express to you what a huge loss this is to every single one of us.

I am actually having trouble typing this because of the tears. And, if you were watching our oceans dry each day in real time, I have no doubt that you would feel the same.

There is no data yet on how big the 2017 world bleaching event will be. However, I would like to submit these photos to the world and to NOAA as evidence of the death in my small corner of the ocean.

Coral is Alive

download

I don’t usually use this blog to educate people about science, but I am afraid that I feel it is necessary. So let’s take a moment to learn about coral, and what it is made out of.

Coral comprised of thousands of tiny animals called polyps.

Polyps are too small to see with the naked eye, but under a microscope you can see that a piece of coral is not a single entity. Rather; it is like an apartment complex.

A cooperative colony of polyps that all live together comprises what we think of as “a coral.”

images (1)

Inside the coral polyps are something called zooxanthellae.

Zooxanthellae are specialized chloroplasts that are able to take sunlight and metabolize it into food for the coral, the same way a chloroplast in vegetation absorbs sunlight and metabolizes it into food for its its plant host.

images

Some corals also have tentacles that they stick out in order to try to catch bits of food that go by. However, all coral are dependent on their zooxanthellae for long-term survival.

You can think of a carnivorous plant like a Venus fly trap: it eats flies, but it will still die without the nutrients its chloroplasts make from sunlight.

This is why you must never touch coral. When you touch it or step on it, you are smashing hundreds of tiny polyps, and this does permanent damage to a coral. In fact, certain kinds of sunscreen are poisonous to coral, so you may even kill the entire colony just by being clumsy.

The lesson? Coral is a living organism made of many smaller living organism, and it’s not okay to touch it.

maxresdefault

Tanguisson Bleaching 5/10/17

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This album is from May of 2017.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is just some of the coral beaching that I have seen around Guam.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am trying to let NOAA and UOG know.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It won’t help solve the problem, but it will help document what is happening.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Maybe I find documenting it comforting because at least I am doing something.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s not a something that fixes anything, but it’s something.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you know anyone in Marine Biology, make sure to pass this information along to them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Coral Bleaching at Gab Gab 9/2/17

Healthy coral has color to it. In the picture above, you can see healthy coral thriving at Gab Gab reef on May 2nd, 2017. This is what it is supposed to look like.

Unfortunately, the coral around the world is dying, and I want to talk about it for a moment.

short coral bleach four.jpg

Coral is made up of many tiny animals called Polyps.

These little animals have specialized chloroplast cells inside called zooxanthellae. These chloroplasts absorb sunlight and convert it to food for the polyp. Without them, a polyp will die.

When the water temperature in an area gets too hot, the zooxanthellae stop being able to work. They are sensitive to temperature, and so they die.

When they die and the polyp pushes them out, the coral becomes white (since polyps have no color.) Eventually, the polyps die and the coral becomes nothing more than skeletons covered in algae.

 

The reefs on Guam are bleaching. This is part of a worldwide event, which is being driven by climate change.

I wanted to share these pictures and videos in an effort to draw attention to the fact that this is happening, and how awful it is.

These pictures are taken at Gab Gab, just like the one at the top of the page. The difference is only a few months, but the difference in the temperature in the water is extremely noticeable.

Before, it used to be a little chilly when you first got in. Gab Gab is a reef that goes from the surface water level down more than one hundred feet. Deeper water, in my experience, tends to be colder.

And yet, yesterday when I got in the water, it was hot.

I beg you all to take a very close look.

I think a lot of people who have never been snorkeling or diving are able to easily ignore the bleaching of the corals and the dying of the reefs.

For me, living here, it is much harder.

Coral are home to thousands of species of animals, and as they die, those animals will also die.

The diversity of life that we had in our oceans was amazing, and losing it is absolutely horrifying.

I have no words beautiful enough or sad enough to write the eulogy for our oceans. Nothing said or written could capture how beautiful this reef was just a few months ago.

Seeing the reef now as it bleaches and dies is one of the most painful things I have ever seen.