The lawsuit by Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM) against dredging that would damage coral reefs in front of the Panama Canal (based on GCRA reef surveys with the Galeta Marine Laboratory) was admitted by Panamanian Courts on 8 January 2018. This means that the construction works in the port must be suspended while the Court provides a final merits decision. Because we filed an amparo de garantías action, we argued infringement of the constitutional rights to a healthy environment, sustainable development and health. Because of these arguments, once this type of lawsuit is admitted it immediately suspends the legal effects of the resolution that approved the project’s EIA until a final decision is made by the Supreme Court.
Please read more on the news that was published on January 29 in Panama’s leading newspaper, La Prensa:
An exceptionally healthy coral reef directly in front of the Panama Canal breakwater is threatened by dredging for the new Isla Margarita Port Terminal. Unless strict measures are taken to prevent mud from getting out of the Eastern Channel onto the adjacent coral reef, Panamanians stand to lose this habitat that is part of their national heritage.
Environmental impact assessments made for the port development only considered dead previously dredged areas inside the breakwater, and completely ignored the healthy coral reefs less than a hundred meters away, connected by an open channel to the dredging and landfill sites.
A survey by the Global Coral Reef Alliance (GCRA) and the Galeta Marine Laboratory of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution (STRI), at the request of Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM), found a healthy coral reef with high living coral cover right in front of Isla Margarita and the eastern end of the Panama Canal breakwater. These reefs are not mentioned anywhere in the port’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): the EIA mentions only dead habitat in the area, which would not be affected from dredging nearby. The living coral reefs are only about 100 meters away from the Port dredge and filling operations.
This reef is close to the Isla Galeta Protected Area, and strong measures are needed to protect the highly vulnerable corals from suspended sediments.
This report, and the photos and video attached to it, describes the health status of this extraordinary reef (figures below) and the measures needed to monitor and protect it.
The full report, with photographic and video documentation can be seen below.
After the survey of Isla Margarita reef was done, the project proponents announced without warning that they had made a mistake: they needed 16 times more dredging material to complete the project than they had projected, and most of the required sand for the filling operations would be dredged in Nombre de Dios. Unfortunately, Nombre de Dios represents the center of the best shallow fringing coral reef flats in the entire Caribbean and is a site of global biodiversity importance.
Two new Global Coral Reef Alliance videos answer the question many people have: what happens in a hurricane? Here we show that Biorock reefs hit by the eye of three of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes, Hanna, Ike, and Irma, suffered almost no physical damage and built up sand around them during the event.
In contrast, solid concrete objects nearby caused so much scour and erosion around and under them that they sank into the sand. Solid breakwaters cause reflection of waves at the solid surface, concentrating all the wave energy in one plane, which causes sand to wash away in front of the structure, then underneath, until it is undermined and collapses. This is the inevitable fate of any vertical seawall, so they need constant and costly repair and replacement. After Hurricane Andrew every single shipwreck in South Florida was torn apart or moved great distances due to the strong surface drag. Not one remained intact.
Biorock electric coral reefs can be any size or shape. For growing corals, we make open frameworks, so the corals can benefit from the water flow through the structure, just as they do in coral reef. As a result of their low cross section to waves, they dissipate energy by surface friction as waves pass through them, refracting and diffracting waves rather than reflecting them. Their low drag coefficient means that they survive waves that would move or rip apart a solid object of the same size.
Here we show what happened to Biorock reefs after the most severe hurricanes ever to hit Saint Barthelemy and Grand Turk. Incredibly, there was little or no physical damage to the structures or to the corals, even though these structures were not welded, simply wired together by hand, and they were not physically attached to the bottom, simply sitting on the bottom under their own weight, attaching themselves to hard bottoms and cementing sand around their bases through growth of limestone rock over their surfaces.
These astonishing results follow our previous video showing the record recovery of severely eroded beaches behind Biorock reefs:
It is important to realize that neither rocks nor structures exposed at low tide shown in this video are an essential part of the method. Almost all of Biorock structures are completely submerged and have no rocks. At Pulau Gangga this design was used to protect the beach from storms at high tide, and effectiveness was more important than aesthetics to the Resort, so they opted not to have what most people want: an invisible watchman that you can’t see at low tide sunset!
In addition, Biorock electric reefs greatly increase the settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to stress of all marine organisms, with only a single known exception: predatory sharks avoid electric fields that confuse them, protecting people and sharks from each other (Uchoa, O’Connell, & Goreau, 2017). In 2016 there was nearly complete survival of Biorock corals during severe high-temperature events that bleached and killed more than 95% of corals on nearby reefs.
Our results show that Biorock electric reefs are the most cost-effective method for saving corals from global warming, restoring reef communities (whether corals, oysters, or mussels), and protecting coastlines from erosion and global sea level rise.
Increasing stress from global warming, sea level rise, acidification, sedimentation, pollution, and unsustainable practices have degraded the most critical coastal ecosystems including coral reefs, oyster reefs, and salt marshes. Conventional restoration methods work only under perfect conditions but fail nearly completely when the water becomes too hot or water quality deteriorates. New methods are needed to greatly increase settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to environmental stress of keystone marine organisms in order to maintain critical coastal ecosystem functions including shore protection, fisheries, and biodiversity. Electrolysis methods have been applied to marine ecosystem restoration since 1976, with spectacular results (Figures 1(a)-(c)). This paper provides the first overall review of the data. Low-voltage direct current trickle charges are found to increase the settlement of corals 25.86 times higher than uncharged control sites, to increase the mean growth rates of reef-building corals, soft corals, oysters, and salt marsh grass— an average of 3.17 times faster than controls (ranging from 2 to 10 times depending on species and conditions), and to increase the survival of electrically charged marine organisms—an average of 3.47 times greater than controls, with the biggest increases under the most severe environmental stresses. These results are caused by the fundamental biophysical stimulation of natural biochemical energy production pathways, used by all organisms, provided by electrical stimulation under the right conditions. This paper reviews for the first time all published results from properly designed, installed, and maintained projects, and contrasts them with those that do not meet these criteria.
How to cite this paper: Goreau, T.J. (2014) Electrical Stimulation Greatly Increases Settlement, Growth, Survival, and Stress Resistance of Marine Organisms. Natural Resources, 5, 527-537. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/nr.2014.510048
Low-voltage direct current trickle charges using Biorock electrolytic technology   grow limestone structures
of any size or shape in the sea and produce the only self-repairing marine construction material that gets
stronger with age , and grows breakwaters capable of rapidly growing back severely eroded beaches . But
in addition to physical benefits the process also has profound stimulatory effects on all forms of marine life.
Biorock structures have been repeatedly shown to greatly increase the settlement, healing, growth, survival, and
resistance to stresses such as extreme high temperatures, sedimentation, and eutrophication in stony corals -, soft corals , oysters -, sea grasses , and intertidal salt marsh grasses . Many other organisms, including clams, tunicates, sponges, and fishes have also been observed to greatly increase their populations in electrical fields, but few measurements have been made on them to date. This review summarizes the available data on the effects of low-voltage direct current electrical stimulation on growth rates, survival, stress resistance, and physiology, which suggest the mechanism is a completely general one that benefits all organisms . Results from projects that were properly designed, installed, and maintained are included in the main part of this paper. Because understanding the causes of negative results play an important role in the scientific method, projects that do not meet those criteria of proper design, installation, and maintenance are discussed separately.
2. The Impact of Electrical Stimulation on Marine Organisms
2.1. Published Results from Properly Designed, Installed, and Maintained Projects
The very first Biorock project, built at Grand Isle, Louisiana in 1976, was completely covered by multiple layers of spontaneously settling oysters that grew to adult size in about 3 months . Recent Biorock projects in New York City show dense spontaneous settlement of oysters on rocks near Biorock structures. Nevertheless, no controlled studies of oyster settlement have yet been conducted. By the late 1980s it was found that electrically stimulated corals grew 3 – 5 times record rates for their species, even under conditions of severe stress. Since then hundreds of projects have been built all across the Caribbean, Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia, with most projects being in Indonesia, the global center of marine biodiversity. While slowly growing Biorock structures have been densely covered with hundreds of spontaneously recruiting corals  , only two studies have documented coral settlement on them  . When these are compared to spontaneous recruitment of corals in natural habitats in the same units (recruits per square meter per month) the rates of settlement on electrically charged Biorock are found to be 1 to 4 orders of magnitude greater (Figure 2(a)), with a mean of 25.86 times higher than those reported from field settling experiments.
Growth rates of reef building hard corals -, gorgonian soft coral , oysters -, and salt marsh grass (Spartina alterniflora)  have been quantitatively compared on Biorock with identical clones off Biorock
in the same habitat. The results show that the electrically stimulated organisms grow typically 2 to 10 times faster (Figure 2(b)), with a mean of 3.17 times greater than controls. In addition hard and soft corals that have
been collected naturally broken and badly damaged are observed to heal completely, release little or no mucus, and regain bright color and polyp extension within a day, while controls remain pale and continue to look injured
and release mucus for two weeks . Corals in electrical fields are observed to bud and branch more densely  . This is reminiscent of the well known role of DC electrical fields in healing ruptured cellular membranes and cuts in the skin of organisms: if the polarity is correct the cut rapidly heals and closes, while if it is reversed the cut opens up . Survival of hard corals -, soft corals , oysters -, and salt marsh grass  in electrical fields compared to un-electrified controls also show many times higher survival (Figure 2(c)), with a mean of 3.47 times higher than controls. This is especially the case in extreme stress conditions from excessively high temperatures, sedimentation, or eutrophication, when almost all the controls die, but most of the electrically charged organisms survive. For example in the severe 1998 Maldives bleaching event Biorock reefs had 16 to 50 times higher coral survival than surrounding reefs, and every single control coral transplanted onto cement structures died . In the 2010 Thailand bleaching events corals bleached less (in some cases not at all), recovered faster, and had much higher survival than the same species of corals on surrounding reefs . Similar results have been seen with oysters , salt marsh grass , and seagrass . Control oysters in New York City nearly all died over a severe winter, and the shells of the survivors shrank in size because they were etched and dissolved from acidity caused by increased CO2 solubility in cold water. In contrast Biorock oysters continued to
grow throughout the normally dormant period, and their shells were shiny with no signs of dissolution from acidity . This is in part because the Biorock electrolytic process generates net alkalinity, and so counteracts acidification . A comparison of 6 genera of corals grown on Biorock with genetically identical clones in the same habitat  showed that electrically stimulated corals had higher densities of the symbiotic alga Symbiodinium sp. (Figure 3(a)), even higher Symbiodinium cell division rates as measured by mitotic indices (Figure 3(b)), but had generally lower chlorophyll per Symbiodinium cell (Figure 3(c)). This is analogous to the lowered chlorophyll content of corals exposed to high light, which is interpreted as a mechanism to prevent excessive photosynthetic production and symbiotic alga growth -. The greatly increased growth rate of corals with electrical stimulation appears to occur despite less dependence on the symbiotic algae, and therefore is a direct effect of the electrical field itself.
All of these phenomena indicate that electrical fields in the right range greatly stimulate the health of marine organisms. These effects are not residual, they occur only when the electrical field is on (Figure 4(a)). These results are no surprise, since all forms of life from bacteria on up maintain a roughly tenth of a volt potential difference between the outside of the cell and the inside, and use electron and proton flow along this voltage gradient to make ATP and NADP, the fundamental energy and reducing currencies of all life. ATP production and protein synthesis are both directly stimulated by DC electrical currents over a very broad range spanning orders of magnitude , increasing with current to a maximum and then decreasing at excessive levels (Figure 4(b)). 2.2. Results from Improperly Designed Experiments This section discusses published results from projects that do not meet the criteria of proper training, materials, design, installation, and maintenance according to the inventors of the electrical stimulation method. All have failed to get the results achieved by those with proper training and materials, for several different reasons. As
there are several different causes for their failure to achieve prime results, these inappropriate projects are reviewed below by major categories of the flaws in their design or execution.
2.2.1. Mistake -1: Current Reversed
In these projects the power leads are connected backwards. Instead of the cathode being protected from corrosion, it rusts very rapidly instead, and the anode, instead of being clean, is instead heavily overgrown by rapid growth of soft minerals. Sometimes it takes months before they realize their mistake, and often the error was only recognized much too late when the author visited and pointed it out. These mistakes can easily be prevented by promptly sending photos for advice. In some cases reports based on this mistake have been published claiming that the method is a total failure. A report by the Texas A&M University Galveston Coastal Geology Laboratory was paid for the State of Texas General Lands Office (GLO), in order to see if electrical methods could protect steel with mineral coatings, as had been shown by Hilbertz in the 1970s. Texas A&M found instead that the charged structures rusted even faster than the controls! They never realized their mistake, nor apparently did Texas GLO.
2.2.2. Mistake 0: No Current
This can result from power supply failure or from cable breakage.
In some of these cases the project was properly designed and installed, but those running the project failed to realize that it was not under power and send photos to the author for confirmation and advice on how to fix it. Some of these continued making measurements for up to year not realizing that the project was not under power, and the mistake was only realized afterwards when they finally sent the first photographs to the author, who immediately recognized they were not receiving electrical current. That is why even trained groups are advised to send frequent photos for advice.
Other cases were by untrained imitators using incorrect design and materials. These failures were largely caused by power supplies burning out, electrical cables breaking, or bad contacts. Most such failures were caused by extreme storm events, such as hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones, and were not properly diagnosed or repaired. In other cases they resulted from deliberate destruction by people running boats over the cables, breaking cables by dragging anchors over cables, by people dumping anchors on top of projects accidentally or deliberately, or saboteurs who cut cables for bizarre reasons of their own, usually involving a personal grudge against a local partner rather than the project itself. Unfortunately several projects that received no current resulted in published theses and papers.
One example is a thesis project by Zaidy Khan at the University of the South Pacific, which found no difference in growth rates of corals on structures which were thought to be under power but which in fact were not, and control structures known to receive no power.
The same error occurred in a thesis project by Andrew Taylor of James Cook University, supervised by Bette Willis, who sought to compare coral growth on structures with and without power. Taylor did not build any electrified structures, he simply used one of our field sites without permission, which his thesis advisor did not seem to realize was fundamentally unethical. The structure he thought was under power was in fact not, due to a burned out power supply that had not been repaired or replaced. In addition Taylor’s control corals died from disease, but a poster was presented anyway at the International Coral Reef Symposium claiming that Biorock corals did not grow faster than controls.
Another experiment done by Bogor University at Pramuka Island in the Seribu Islands north of Jakarta was victim of deliberate turning off of the power. The local power supply was in a commercial restaurant that was paid for supplying power, but which in fact turned the power off except during short visits by students making measurements. The interpretation of several Master’s theses was compromised by failure to realize what had happened until later.
In several cases groups in places like Thailand, the Philippines, Germany, Japan, the United States, and other places, who falsely claim to be trained in Biorock methods have been making unauthorized projects that have been complete failures. Their pitiful results are an obvious failure to all visitors, and an embarrassment because the imitators then say the method doesn’t work, not that they aren’t trained to do it properly.
2.2.3. Mistake 1: Current Too Low
This mistake results from powering too large an area with too small a power source, or failure to recognize that cables are broken or inadequate. One example comes from Terlouw , who reports measurements made on a project in Ko Tao, Thailand that was partially installed, but whose installation was never completed to standards. As a result of inadequate and broken cables the project received only a little power in the first year. In the second year new cables were installed and a failed power supply replaced so the project received power, but in the third year the cables broke and or the power supply failed, so only a small trickle or no power reached the project. These conditions were identified by the author from photographs sent from the project, but were not recognized by Terlouw, who reported that corals on Biorock grew faster than control corals by a factor of 1.54 in Year One, by a factor of 5.04 in Year Two, and by a factor of 1.33 in Year Three. Terlouw, not recognizing the cause of the variations, suggested that benefits are mixed, but our interpretation is that the higher results in Year 2 are due to that being the only year with adequate power, while Year 1 and Year 3 were underpowered, resulting in lower rates.
A similar mistake was made with oysters by Piazza et al. . In this particular case the oysters thought to be getting electrical current were in fact getting almost none at all, because flawed experimental design concentrated the current onto fresh pieces of bare steel. Piazza et al. found that the oysters that they incorrectly thought to be under power grew only 1.15 times faster than controls.
2.2.4. Mistake 2: Current Too High
Over-charging has been known to cause negative effects from the very start, but most groups that set up experiments without proper training or materials use high power to get quick results. As shown in Figure 4(b) of this paper, excessive current causes negligible benefits, and if too high, causes negative effects, killing corals. Unfortunately most of those who get negative results due to overcharging do not realize their error, and many of them have published their results anyway. This mistake is the cause of the very poor results reported by Schuhmacher, Schillak, Van Treeck, Sabater, Yap, Eggeling, and their colleagues -. Since these authors did not realize their mistakes and published negative or minor results, it has been widely claimed that the method does not work, but in fact their poor results were entirely due to lack of proper training, experimental design, materials, etc. Such mistakes are even worse when done in a closed system tank. As a result of their overcharging the corals had only very small increases in growth rates, or they bleached and failed to grow entirely, or died.
2.2.5. Mistake 3: Ethical
Borrell et al.   reported that one coral species grows a bit faster with electricity but that another species had its growth reduced and inhibited by the electrical field  . In fact, the alleged reduction of one species’ growth was for a completely different reason: terminal phase male parrotfish established their breeding territories on the Biorock project, and marked them by biting off all the growing tips of that one species only, while ignoring them in the control site. The author of this paper personally set that project up, and documented the cause, but this was completely and knowingly ignored by the authors of the report, causing deceptive and false conclusions.
These results all point in the same direction: low-voltage trickle charges can greatly enhance the health of marine organisms. Voltage gradients in the right range appear to create the ideal biophysical conditions for the creation of biochemical energy, stimulating healing, growth, survival, and resistance to stress. The external field maintains the cell membrane gradient and greatly reduces the need for cells to spend a large part of their energy pumping electrons, protons, and ions to maintain the gradient, freeing this energy for metabolism, growth, and resisting environmental stress.
Unfortunately many people copying the Biorock method think they can do so without training. The results of improperly designed, installed, and maintained projects set up by people without training using improper materials always fail to replicate the results of projects by trained people using approved methods and materials, for several obvious reasons. These people inevitably blame the technology itself and not their lack of training. Almost every data point in these graphs represents populations of different species grown in the field under different electrical conditions, most of which are likely to be suboptimal. For example oyster growth rates next to a former toxic waste dump in New York City increased with current, up to 10 fold (NB, length increase only, the volume increase is a thousand fold), even though they were getting power less than a quarter of the time, and probably would have grown even faster with more power . Much more work is needed to find out the optimal conditions, which are likely to be subtly different for each species. It has not escaped our attention that because membrane electro-chemical gradient-driven energy production is universal among all cellular life, going back to the last common ancestor, the method will apply to all organisms, although the effects and best conditions will depend on the electrical conductivity of their medium.
Maintaining ecosystem services in the face of accelerating global climate change will require methods that increase growth, survival, and resistance to escalating stress. These results indicate that the Biorock process is unique in accelerating settlement, growth, healing, branching, survival, and resistance to environmental stress. This allows marine organisms to be kept alive under conditions that would otherwise kill them, and enables entire complex ecosystems to be restored in a short period of time in places where there is no natural recovery (Figure 1). The Biorock electrolysis method, by stimulating the natural energy production mechanism, is the only ecological restoration method known that can maintain and restore marine ecosystems under conditions of accelerating global warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification, sedimentation, and excessive nutrient inputs, especially under severe stress where all other methods fail. It is urgent that the method should be optimized and applied on a large scale as soon as possible, especially in coral reefs, the ecosystem most threatened by global warming  , and in extending oyster reefs and salt marshes seaward to reduce coastal damage caused by global sea level rise.
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(2000) Transplantation of Coral Fragments from Ship Groundings on Electro-Chemically Formed Reef Structures. Proceedings of the 9th International Coral Reef Symposium, Bali, 2, 23-27.  Van Treeck, P. and Schuhmacher, H. (1997) Initial Survival of Coral Nubbins Transplanted by a New Coral Transplantation Technology-Options for Reef Rehabilitation. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 150, 287-292. http://dx.doi.org/10.3354/meps150287  Van Treeck, P. and Schuhmacher H. (1998) Mass Diving Tourism—A New Dimension Calls for New Management Approaches. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 37, 499-504. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0025-326X(99)00077-6  Van Treeck, P. and Schuhmacher, H. (1999) Artificial Reefs Created by Electrolysis and Coral Transplantation: An Approach Ensuring the Compatibility of Environmental Protection and Diving Tourism. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 49, 75-81.  Sabater, M.G. and Yap, H.T. (2002) Growth and Survival of Coral Transplants with and without Electrochemical Deposition of CaCoB3B. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 272, 131-146. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0022-0981(02)00051-5  Sabater, M.G. and Yap, H.T. (2004) Long-Term Effects of Mineral Accretion on Growth, Survival and Corallite Properties of Porites cylindrica Dana. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 311, 355-374. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jembe.2004.05.013  Eggeling, D. (2006) Electro-Mineral Accretion Assisted Coral Growth: An Aquarium Environment. Townsville Aquarium, Queensland, 21.  Borell, E.M. (2008) Coral Photophysiology in Response to Thermal Stress, Nutritional Status and Seawater Electrolysis. Centre for Tropical Biology, University of Bremen, Bremen, 134.  Borell, E.M., Romatzki, S.B.C. and Ferse, S.C.A. (2009) Differential Physiological Responses of Two Congeneric Scleractinian Corals to Mineral Accretion and an Electrical Field. Coral Reefs, 29, 191-200.  Goreau, T.J. and Hayes, R.L. (2005) Global Coral Reef Bleaching and Sea Surface Temperature Trends from Satellite- Derived Hotspot Analysis. World Resource Review, 17, 254-293.  Goreau, T.J., Hayes, R.L. and McAllister, D. (2005) Regional Patterns of Sea Surface Temperature Rise: Implications for Global Ocean Circulation Change and the Future of Coral Reefs and Fisheries. World Resource Review, 17, 350- 374.
Wind speeds and climate extremes are driven by atmosphere temperature and pressure differences, which are increasing due to global warming, because temperature differences between land and sea get greater with global warming.
Here is the latest global sea surface temperature and air temperature anomaly maps. The Arctic is exceptionally warm, and most of the North Atlantic is 2 degrees C or more above average, causing much more evaporation over the ocean that turns into snow in a northeaster, and dumps it on my sidewalk.
Also notice the hot water around Australia. The Great Barrier Reef will bleach for the third year in a row if this hot water does not go away very soon. The biggest patch of cool water, in the eastern equatorial Pacific, is the remains of a La Niña that failed to develop and is fast dissipating.
Coral reefs are already the first victims, we exceeded the global bleaching temperature tipping point threshold in the 1980s, there is now very little time left to save them.
— Tom Goreau
Stephen Jay Gould (my advisor at Harvard), The Golden Rule, 1993 , phrases in brackets inserted for clarity.
“By what argument could we [humanity], arising just a geological microsecond ago, become responsible for the affairs of a world 4.5 billion years old, teeming with life that has been evolving and diversifying……Nature does not exist for us, had no idea we were coming, and doesn’t give a damn about us…..
We can surely destroy ourselves, and take many other species with us…..On geological scales our planet will take good care of itself and let time clear the impact of any human malfeasance [but it will take several million years]……
If we all treated others as we wish to be treated ourselves, then decency and stability would have to prevail. I suggest we execute such a pact with our planet.
She holds all the cards, and has immense power over us – so such a compact, which we desperately need but she does not at her timescale, would be a blessing for us and an indulgence for her.
We had better sign the papers while she is still willing to make a deal. If we treat her nicely she will keep us going for a while. If we scratch her, she will bleed, kick us out, bandage up, and go about her business at her own scale…..
The Earth is kinder than human agents in “the art of the deal”. She will uphold her end; we must now go and do likewise.”
Panamanian Caribbean coral reef temperatures have been very hot in 2017 and have hovered near the bleaching temperature threshold almost all year.
Bleaching began around March, unusually early, but by June waters had cooled down below the threshold, and corals went into a bleaching recovery phase at that time.
Water temperatures rose again above bleaching thresholds later in the year, leading to predictions of a second bleaching event in a single year.
Fortunately a second bleaching event did not happen despite high temperatures, for a very good reason! It has been a very wet rainy season, with heavy rains almost every day, and the sky is grey with dense clouds, or black with thunderheads, with little or no blue sky, so there has been much less sunshine and light stress late in the rainy season compared to in earlier in the season.
In the 1980s my bleaching experiments with Jamaican corals at combinations of different temperature and light levels showed clearly that:
1) Bleaching took place only above a temperature threshold, showing temperature to be the prime trigger for bleaching.
2) Above that temperature, the rate of bleaching was proportional to the light level, indicating that high light level was a secondary factor for bleaching.
Peter Glynn independently did similar experiments in Okinawa, and found the same.
These experiments explained the clear effects of shading of corals on bleaching responses that we studied in the field in the first Caribbean-wide high temperature bleaching event in 1987, why a second bleaching event did not happen in Panama this year, and why the wettest tropics will be a major refuge for corals against global climate change, but only in areas free of direct human impacts such as deforestation, sewage, and agricultural chemicals.
In Jamaica, where high temperature stress was much less than Panama this year, about half the corals were bleached two weeks ago, much more than in Panama. Jamaica has much higher light than Panama, where the skies are grey through most of the rainy season. Belize, which suffered temperature stress between that of Panama and Jamaica this year, but whose climate is more similar to Jamaica, is predicted to have had more severe bleaching in 2017 than either Jamaica or Panama, due to its combination of thermal and light stress. There have been no reports of bleaching from Belize yet. It will be interesting to see if there was mortality there.
The protective effect of high cloudiness in the warmest time of year is uniquely related to the extreme vertical circulation of the equatorial atmosphere right up to the tropopause. When one flies over Panama or Indonesia in the rainy season there is no blue sky to be seen, even at 10 Kilometers height (30,0000 feet). These refuges are limited to equatorial reefs, and Panama, Colombia, and Indonesia are likely to be the most important. As global warming continues, these corals may have a unique chance of survival due to protection by local weather patterns.
It must be emphasized that these are NOT refuges because the corals are more “resilient”, they are refuges because they are lucky to suffer much less stress from high light, on top of high temperature. Many Australian and American coral “scientists” claim any location where corals survive have “resilient” corals, but they have simply been lucky to escape additional stresses for purely local reasons!
In Panama we have recently found two reef refuges with exceptionally high live coral cover, diversity, and health.
1) We have surveyed a reef with 30-40% live coral cover in shallow water right in front of the eastern end of the Panama Canal breakwater. This reef is not only at the high end for coral cover in the Caribbean today, despite a century and a half of severe disturbance from dredging and pollution, it now has higher live coral cover than when it was last studied in the 1980s, an exceptional circumstance! However it is imminently threatened by dredging for a huge new port that will be constructed only a few hundred meters from the reef! GCRA and our Panamanian colleagues will soon issue a report with photos and video of this reef, and recommendations for protecting it.
2) We have found a truly exceptional reef of global significance in the Guna Yala Indigenous Territories with even higher live coral cover. This reef is remote from human habitation, is free of weedy algae caused by high nutrients (and has no Diadema). The shallow reef is covered with huge intact colonies of elkhorn and staghorn corals of sizes and abundance that I have not seen in the Caribbean since the 1970s. They are growing on top of a layer of even larger intact dead corals of the same species and are clearly regenerating because the reef is free of algae and sediment. Also astonishing is the size, age, and ecomorphotype (phenotype) diversity of coral species, including vast numbers of huge ancient coral heads from 1 to 6 meters tall, and up to 8 meters across. Nevertheless the reef is being affected by black band, yellow band, white band, dark spot, and white plague diseases. These diseases have been declining across the Caribbean over the last two decades, as the most susceptible corals die, or as the disease becomes less virulent. The virulence of diseases at this site suggests that the pathogens have only recently reached the area, since most of the corals are healthy intact with only relatively small areas affected so far.
In the 1950s, Thomas F. Goreau, in a paper on gigantism in reef corals, emphasized the importance of exceptional and rare reef habitats where all the corals were huge and healthy. Jamaica used to have about half a dozen such locations, only one now survives in degraded form. This newly discovered remote reef in the Guna Indigenous territories may be one of very few places left in the Caribbean like this, and urgently needs to be protected. GCRA is preparing a photographic report on this extraordinary reef, and will train Guna marine resource managers to monitor and assess such remarkable sites.
Although Guna Yala has long been regarded as having some of the finest coral reefs in the Caribbean, there has been essentially no work on the best reefs. Peter Glynn’s magnificent work has focused on the completely different Panamanian Pacific reefs. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution had a marine lab for many years in westernmost Guna Yala. This was located in the most densely populated area of the Indigenous Territory, where reefs have been in poor condition since the 1980s due to severe algae overgrowth of the corals caused by raw sewage. The Gunas threw the Smithsonian out because American coral researchers removed big corals without permission and then arrogantly treated the Gunas as ignorant natives who should mind their own business. As a result, the good reefs in Guna Yala have never been studied, and diving with tanks is strictly banned by the Gunas. There is therefore a crucial need to establish Guna coral reef monitoring, restoration, and protection efforts for these refuge reefs of global importance. There have also been Biorock coral reef restoration projects in Guna Yala for 21 years, which are doing well, and will soon be expanded.
As the current La Niña sets in, Indonesia and Australia are expected, from the well known El Niño Southern Oscillation teleconnections, to leave the “cold” phase they have been in during the long extended El Niño that is just over, and to enter the “warm” phase this southern summer. Already these areas are unusually warm, and there is therefore a strong likelihood of even more severe bleaching in 2018 than in the last three years. It will be very important to identify the major coral refuges in Indonesia that are protected, like Panama, by high clouds in the warm season.
The remaining coral reefs of Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla, Tortola and the British Virgin Islands, Grand Turk, Cuba, Dominica, and Puerto Rico have all been devastated in recent weeks by direct hits from the eye of the strongest hurricanes on record. Having dived extensively around all of these islands except for Anguilla, none of these areas had remaining shallow reefs in good condition before the event. The question now is how quickly they will recover?
The first study of hurricane impacts on coral reefs was after Hurricane Charlie, which devastated Jamaica in 1951, and tore the roof off of our home. After the hurricane, my father dived in the reefs and found large areas of shallow elkhorn and staghorn coral smashed to rubble, and large old coral heads cracked and toppled (Goreau, 1956). By the mid 1950s, about half of the reef had grown back (see photo below), and by the late 1950s there were almost no traces of the damage visible because vigorous coral settlement and growth rapidly colonized the damaged areas.
That is why we always said that healthy coral reefs could recover from near-total hurricane devastation in a decade or so (Goreau, Goreau, & Goreau, 1979). But Jamaican coral reefs never recovered from Hurricane Allen (1979), Gilbert (1989), and Ivan (2004) because by then the coral reef ecosystem’s intrinsic internal biological resilience had already been destroyed by stresses exceeding their capacity to adapt.
Bob Trench, Belize’s most famous scientist and the world’s top expert on coral symbiosis and I have recently looked at the oldest underwater photographs of Belize coral reefs taken in 1968, 7 years after the worst hurricane in Belize history, Hurricane Hattie, had devastated Belizean coral reefs and mangroves (Stoddart, 1963). These include the reefs that Bob grew up on fishing before Hurricane Hattie. The elkhorn and staghorn zones had already largely recovered at that point. So in the 1960s, Belize reefs, like Jamaican reefs in the 1950s, were still able to recover from devastating physical damage in a decade.
Recovery on this scale is now completely impossible because global warming, nutrient pollution, and diseases have degraded or destroyed the capacity of the most critical ecosystem framework-building coral species to survive or recover from. Dead areas destroyed by hurricanes now stay dead, are overgrown by weedy algae indicating sewage pollution, or are colonized by communities of weedy coral species, which most people confuse with real coral reefs because they have never seen one.
The old massive coral reef walls that surrounded most Caribbean islands when I was a boy still remain as a dead reef in only a few lucky spots where they have not yet been torn apart by bio-erosion and wave forces, but they have completely vanished in most places, where there is no trace remaining of the magnificent reefs that once stood there.
Coral reefs were resilient and would spring back in devastated areas on decadal scales in the old days only because there was no human-caused climate change, pollution, and new diseases. That was because devastation by storms or dredging were brief in time and space, and damaged areas grew right back from the healthy reef all around the damaged areas. Now there is no healthy surrounding reef, and no spatial or temporal refuges left from high temperatures, pollutants, and pathogens that are accelerating everywhere.
It is time that the bogus fraud of “coral reef resilience” be buried forever. This vile lie, based on invincible ignorance of fundamental coral biology, has been pimped for the last 30 years by governments and Big International NGOs (BINGOs) in order to prevent efforts to eliminate the real root causes of coral reef destruction, and to prevent serious efforts to restore them, thereby deliberately sentencing coral reefs to death from preventable causes.
Here in Jamaica it is in the earliest and mildest phases, with only the most sensitive colonies of the three most sensitive species showing paling. Temperatures in Jamaica were only briefly above the HotSpot levels, and have cooled since, so bleaching is not likely to be noticeable to anyone else unless the waters warm up again in the next few weeks.
There has been no noticeable change in coral bleaching thresholds for 30 years, and therefore no signs of adaptation, but we are steadily losing the most vulnerable species so there is less to bleach.
In Panama, which lies in the core of the Goreau-Hayes Coral Bleaching HotSpot (below) bleaching will be much more noticeable. Reefs in the Panamanian Caribbean bleached earlier this year when the HotSpot first developed, recovered to some degree following mild cooling in mid year, and are now bleaching yet again for a second time this year. Impacts could be severe as they bleached last year and the year before as well, though not severely enough to cause much mortality.
Curaçao, Bonaire, Belize, Honduras, Colombia, and many other parts of the Caribbean are likely to bleach in the next few weeks unless there is dramatic cooling.
As usual, there have been no reports of bleaching from the areas all across the Pacific that were most devastated by high temperatures this year.
Severe bleaching is certain to be ongoing in the Ryukyus, the Marianas, Palau, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Yap, but dive shops have simply stopped reporting bleaching…………
Or perhaps it is because NOAA declared that “the bleaching event is now over”?