Category Archives: Coral Reefs

Criminal Negligence

Casualties of Disaster

Gale Mead, who wrote the song and shot the video above, says this about the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico:

Carpets of crinoids – cousins of the sea-star – stretched their long limbs languidly into the current for morsels of planktonic food. Colorful tropical fish drifted among gracefully spiraling wire corals. Somber-faced grouper hovered warily while jacks and sharks cruised by, curious about the submersibles lights. Fifty miles south of Mississippi, I was the first human ever to lay eyes on the teeming, thriving, dazzling undersea metropolis that was Salt Dome Mountain. As rich and diverse as Texas Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary to the west, or Floridas coral reefs to the south, but a little deeper, and totally unexplored.

It was July 29, 2002, and I was a submersible pilot with the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, a joint project of National Geographic and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, led by my mother, Dr. Sylvia Earle. Fishermen and oilmen have long known the Gulf of Mexico by what they could extract from it with their nets and their drilling rigs. We were there to study it from the inside out.

Salt Dome Mountain is an unexpectedly shallow seamount rising from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico to within 200 feet of the surface. Its just south of the Mississippi coast, just north of where a raging gusher of oil now spews death and destruction with no end in sight. And no beginning in sight either, as the vast majority of this catastrophe is occurring underwater, beyond the reach of television news cameras. The video below is a compilation of images from my dive eight years ago, posted with permission from Sustainable Seas Expeditions. You can find more videos of the undersea life near the blowout by using Google Ocean.

It remains to be seen when or even whether the raging torrent of oil can be stopped, but even in the best case scenario, the damage already done far exceeds what most of us can yet get our minds around. May it at least not pass unnoticed. And may we at long last consider that the consequences of our actions should be weighed before, and not after, the damage is done.


More on Coral Reefs

From the BBC. Pretty pictures.

Porites coral on the Great Barrier Reef

Porites coral on the Great Barrier Reef

Externalized costs.

Dr Glenn De’ath and colleagues investigated 328 colonies of massive Porites corals, from 69 locations…. By looking at the coral skeletons, they determined that calcification – or the deposit of calcium carbonate – has declined by 13.3% throughout the Great Barrier Reef since 1990.

Such a decline is unprecedented in at least the past 400 years, they write.


Speaking of The Way We Live Now, here’s an interesting essay from Chris Hedges — author of the indispensible War is a Force that Gives us Meaning.

He quotes the documentary The Corporation:

A corporation that attempts to engage in social responsibility, that tries to pay workers a decent wage with benefits, that invests its profits to protect the environment and limit pollution, that gives consumers fair deals, can be sued by shareholders. Robert Monks, the investment manager, says in the film: “The corporation is an externalizing machine, in the same way that a shark is a killing machine. There isn’t any question of malevolence or of will. The enterprise has within it, and the shark has within it, those characteristics that enable it to do that for which it was designed.” Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface Corp., the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer, calls the corporation a “present day instrument of destruction” because of its compulsion to “externalize any cost that an unwary or uncaring public will allow it to externalize.”

“The notion that we can take and take and take and take, waste and waste, without consequences, is driving the biosphere to destruction,” Anderson says.

The ease of externalizing of costs worries me. And the difficulty of opposing that externalization — recently seen in the debates over energy, the killing of coral reefs, the debate over universal health care. I don’t see how we get past this impasse. If Obama can do that, his will truly be a transformational presidency.

Carbon Emissions

Re: my last post on the demise of coral reefs, partly due to global warming and partly to carbon dioxide.

In today’s New York Times, there’s an article on differences within the upcoming Obama administration on restriction on carbon emissions. Basically it’s Summers vs. Browner (looser restrictions vs. strict ones). Summers’ argument, during the Clinton administration, was that aggressive action to reduce carbon emissions might have a negative economic effect.

I hope that Browner wins this time around. Our oceans, our coral reefs, and, perhaps, life as we know it, cannot withstand the great increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Tipping Point

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef

Sad news:

Coral decline warns of ocean changes: Australian scientists

SYDNEY (AFP) — A sharp slowdown in coral growth on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef since 1990 is a warning sign that precipitous changes in the world’s oceans may be imminent, scientists said Friday.

You can read more at these links: Green Car Congress and EPOCA (European Congress on Ocean Acidification) blog. Here’s an alarming snippet from EPOCA:

But on the climate vulnerable Great Barrier Reef, researchers have been surprised to discover that a tipping point for coral growth has already been reached.

In the journal Science this morning they reveal that it was reached 18 years ago, as Nonee Walsh reports.

An abstract of the article by De’ath, Lough, and Fabricius appears in Science .