Category Archives: Sea Level Rise

The Outdoor Classrooms of the EarthEcho Water Challenge

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Most classrooms and schools are pretty noisy places in my experience. The hustle and bustle of everyone coming and going, doors and lockers opening and closing, bells ringing, and the hum of artificial light glowing in the classrooms is not what I’d consider a truly peaceful place.

The classroom and natural laboratory that Miami-Dade Country students get to visit at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center on Key Biscayne while participating in the EarthEcho Water Challenge, however, is a far more beautiful place indeed.

The shallow waters of the Atlantic Ocean off of Key Biscayne here in Miami are, in fact, extraordinary. The last time I visited the Biscayne Nature Center was when I joined famed world explorer Philippe Cousteau, founder of Earth Echo International, and Sean Russell, the EarthEcho Water Challenge Manager, as we worked with hundreds of local students to help them collect data so that they could participate in the EarthEcho Water Challenge.

The shallow waters that day were still, like a sheet of glass, and the blue, cloudless sky was endless. The beach’s sands were warm and bright white and all in all, it was the perfect setting for the children to gently collect sea life with their seining nets and water samples to test and learn about the importance of our world’s waters.

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As part of the day’s fun, the students participated in the EarthEcho Water Challenge by collecting water samples, testing their samples and then both interpreting and reporting their findings. Along with the wonderful Biscayne Nature Center staff and the students’ teachers we taught the children how to use the EarthEcho Water Challenge kits to test the water’s pH, dissolved oxygen content, turbidity, temperature, and more, and then how to interpret and log their results on line. That work allowed the students to join nearly 1,500,000 people from 143 countries all over the world in participating in the EarthEcho Water Challenge.

And as lovely as our day with the students on the shores of Biscayne Bay was, perhaps the best part is that you too can participate in the EarthEcho Water Challenge!

This year, EarthEcho International and its Youth Leadership Council have created a new program: EarthEcho Water Challenge Ambassadors. Anyone from ages 13-22 can apply to become an ambassador and in doing so, receive an EarthEcho Water Challenge kit that will guide you through all of the steps including testing the pH, dissolved oxygen content, turbidity and temperature of your local waterways and then report your monthly data for use in the Challenge’s Annual Report. You will also be responsible for putting together an event on or around September 18th, World Water Monitoring Day, where you can showcase your work.

Once you have been accepted and received your water quality kit, the rest is easy and includes three steps:

  1. Test: Use your water quality kit to test the water.
  2. Share: Once you’ve tested the water you then enter your data online to our international database and share your story and photos on social media using @MonitorWater #MonitorWater.
  3. Protect: Once you’ve entered your own data you can use it and the resources on our site to educate others in your community about how they can join you in protecting our planet’s water resources.

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If you would like to apply to be a Water Challenge Ambassador and have the opportunity to work alongside the Youth Leadership Council members, as well as EarthEcho leaders, visit www.monitorwater.org/ambassadors.

Whether your own personal classroom becomes the ocean or a lake, pond, stream or canal near you, have fun completing the EarthEcho Water Challenge. And once you do, I do hope that you will engage others in your community about share what you learned and what your concerns are about protecting our planet’s waters.

Together we can test water quality, share our data, and protect our environment, so sign up today to become an EarthEcho Water Challenge Ambassador!

Coral Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef

The following article first appeared on the Research Blog for Dr. Neil Hammerschlag’s Shark Research and Conservation (SRC) Lab website at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. To learn more about SRC, visit here: http://sharkresearch.rsmas.miami.edu/, or to learn more about the University’s marine science school, please click here: http://rsmas.miami.edu/.

By Delaney Reynolds, SRC intern

Coral reefs are some of planet earth’s most spectacular, diverse and important ecosystems. Our planet’s coral reefs provide important shelter, habitats, and a source of food for many different species of marine organisms. They also act as a critical food source to humans, as well a natural barrier to help protect our coastlines from hurricanes and associated storm surges. Sadly, coral reefs face growing risks including the possibility of extinction from a variety of stresses that leads to coral bleaching.

Coral Bleaching

Figure 1: Coral from which the zooxanthellae has been expelled, causing it to turn white (Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Keppelbleaching.jpg)

Coral bleaching is the process in which zooxanthellae, algae living symbiotically within the coral, are expelled from coral colonies due to a number of factors including an increase in temperature, decrease in pH, exposure to UV radiation, reduced salinity, and bacterial infections. Zooxanthellae provide the coral 30% of its nitrogen and 91% of its carbon needs to the coral host in exchange for a shelter, as well as waste produced by the coral from nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon dioxide that is required for the algae’s growth (Baird, 2002).

When corals bleach, it effects entire marine communities due to their immense diversity. Fish populations that reside around coral reefs “are the most species dense vertebrate communities on earth, contributing critical ecosystem functions and providing crucial ecosystem services to human societies in tropical countries” (Graham, 2008). Researchers have found that when an ecosystem endures physical coral loss, fish species richness is extremely likely to decline due to their heavy reliance on the coral colony itself (Graham, 2008).

Perhaps the most famous current example of coral bleaching is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Scientists have determined that the main cause of Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching is induced thermal stress and that about 90% of the reef has been bleached since 1998 (Baird, 2002). As the corals bleach and temperatures increase, researchers have determined that shark and ray species that live in the area may be vulnerable to these climactic changes.

Exposure of Ecological Groups of GBR Sharks and Rays to Climate Change Factors

Figure 2: Exposure of Ecological Groups of GBR Sharks and Rays to Climate Change Factors. This figure displays the vulnerability different elasmobranch species face due to climate change, as well as the specific effects of climate change that they are vulnerable to, in the specific zones of the Great Barrier Reef. (Image Source: Chin et al. 2010)

Most of the Great Barrier Reef is located on the mid-shelf of the ocean floor, the approximate mid-point between the shallower coast of Australia and the continental shelf where the ocean bottom significantly drops in depth. Researchers found that the mid-shelf is the area where most of the shark species studied reside, while most rays dwell in coastal waters or closer to the continental shelf. It was also found that both areas are the susceptible to rising temperature, increased storm frequency and intensity, increasing acidity, current alterations, and freshwater runoff, all being caused by climate change (Chin, 2010). Based on these findings, researchers have concluded that the areas these elasmobranchs live in should be protected and preserved. Species in these highly vulnerable areas should also be monitored and considered for future conservation actions, as many of the shark species are already experiencing the effects of climate change from some of the aforementioned factors.

Typically, sharks are considered some of the strongest animals on earth, and while they have lived on earth for at least 420 million years, they are slow to adapt. This slowness has impeded their ability to survive in our rapidly changing climate. In the near future it will be common to see some species of marine organisms demonstrate plasticity, the ability to adapt to their changing environment, but other species, such as elasmobranchs, are expected to simply distribute to other habitats in search of cooler waters. Even though sharks are a highly vulnerable species to climate change, they sit at the top of the trophic level in many different niches and, thus, wherever they migrate to, it will be easier for them to find food than it would be for other species such as fish or rays. However, this is most likely only the case for adult sharks as embryos and juvenile sharks may be more vulnerable to increased temperatures. For instance, researchers found that the survival of bamboo shark embryos decreased from 100% at current temperatures to 80% under future ocean temperature scenarios and that the embryonic period was also shortened, not allowing the embryo enough time to develop fully (Rosa, 2014).

To decrease the effects of climate change on coral bleaching, corrective and mitigation measures can be taken. By utilizing green energy sources such as implementing solar power or wind power, walking or biking, and driving electric cars, we can reduce our use of fossil fuels and carbon footprint, thus decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide polluting and warming our atmosphere and oceans. While underwater and not always visible, coral reefs are truly a vital part of our ecosystem and need to be cherished and protected for generations to come.

References

Baird, A. H., & Marshall, P. A. (2002, July 18). Mortality, growth and reproduction in scleractinian corals following bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Retrieved from https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/1521/1/Baird_and_Marshall_2002.pdf

Chin, A., Kyne, P. M., Walker, T. I. and McAuley, R. B. (2010), An integrated risk assessment for climate change: analyzing the vulnerability of sharks and rays on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Global Change Biology, 16: 1936–1953. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2009.02128.x

Graham, N. A., McClanahan, T. R., MacNeil, M. A., Wilson, S. K., Polunin, N. V., Jennings, S., . . . Sheppard, C. R. (2008, August 27). Climate Warming, Marine Protected Areas and the Ocean-Scale Integrity of Coral Reef Ecosystems. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0003039

Rosa, R., Baptista, M., Lopes, V. M., Pegado, M. R., Paula, J. R., Trubenbach, K., . . . Repolho, T. (2014, August 13). Early-life exposure to climate change impairs tropical shark survival. Retrieved November 2, 2017, from http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/royprsb/281/1793/20141738.full.pdf

Yale Climate Connections

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I am honored and pleased to share with you that The Sink or Swim Project’s work has been featured on two national programs produced by the Yale Climate Connections (YCC). YCC is a project of the Yale Center for Environmental Communication (YCEC) and is directed by Dr. Leiserowitz of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies at Yale University.

YCC produces daily broadcast radio and web-based reporting and commentary about climate change and like me, YCC sees the threat of our planet’s changing climate as one of the greatest challenges our society faces. YCC’s programs are aired nationwide on about 380 radio stations and are also available through iTunes and iHeartRadio.

Youth all over the world are rightfully deeply concerned about our warming planet and the impact that it has on our future. Yale University and the folks at YCC certainly understand this and with this in mind have published two radio stories about my work that I am very pleased to share with you.

1. To listen to the first piece about The Sink or Swim Project in general, please visit this link: https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2018/01/south-florida-teen-speaks-out-on-sea-level-rise/

2.  To listen to the second piece about how a teenager worked with a local municipality to make history by creating a solar power mandate that helps move The Sunshine State of Florida towards becoming THE Solar State, please visit this link: https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2018/01/teen-gets-city-to-pass-solar-rules/

I do hope you will give them a listen or read and let me know what you think. And most importantly, please share these shows with others and ask that they become engaged in their own communities. Together, but only together, we can and will change the world, of that I am certain.

Thanks to Dr. Leiserowitz, Jan O’Brien, Eileen Mignoni, and the entire team at Yale Climate Connections for thinking of me and for your incredible work for our planet and society.

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