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#416076 - 09/13/11 02:05 PM Belizean Reefs Destroyed By 09 Honduran Earthquake
Marty Offline

Epicentre of the 2009 earthquake. Image USGS

An earthquake in 2009 led to the rare but catastrophic destruction of lagoonal reefs in Belize, a new study has found.

In May 2009, a powerful, magnitude-7.3 earthquake shook the western Caribbean, causing lagoonal reefs in Belize, 213 kilometres (132 miles) from the epicentre, to avalanche and slide into deeper water.

As reported in a preprint article of Ecology, a journal of the Ecological Society of America, Richard Aronson of the Florida Institute of Technology and colleagues analyzed data that suggest how the history of the reef will influence its recovery.

During the quarter-century before the earthquake struck, the reefs had gone through mass mortalities of two sequentially dominant coral species. Novel events in their own right, these mass mortalities were instantly “rendered moot” on half the reefs, which were destroyed when the earthquake hit.

Aronson and colleagues’ work focused on a 375-square-kilometer (144-square-mile) area of the Belizean Barrier Reef, which they monitored from 1986 to 2009. The group revisited 21 sites in 2010 to determine the impacts of the earthquake. They found that approximately half the reef slopes had slabbed off and slid into deeper water. Only sediment and the skeletal debris of corals remained.

Beginning in 1986, a bacterial infection called white-band disease killed virtually all the then-dominant staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) in the study area. By 1995, lettuce coral (Agaricia tenuifolia) had taken over the number-one spot. But when high temperatures from the 1998 El Nino–Southern Oscillation, which were aggravated by global climate change, caused mass coral bleaching, lettuce coral disappeared. An encrusting sponge (Chondrilla caribensis) colonized its skeletal remains, along with seaweed. What’s astonishing about this series of events, say the authors, is that—as evidenced by radiocarbon-dating of reef cores—staghorn coral had dominated the reefs for nearly 4,000 years.

“The prior losses of both staghorn and lettuce corals drastically weakened the resilience of the coral assemblages on the reef slopes,” says lead author Aronson. “In other words, if neither white-band disease nor bleaching had occurred, staghorn coral might have continued its millennial-scale dominance of the areas not destroyed by the quake.”

The authors project that recovery to a coral-dominated state is unlikely in the near future, because corals in the undamaged areas had been killed previously. The situation is unlikely to change unless the way we manage reef resources improves dramatically.

Marine protected areas are meant to sustain an area’s ecological, cultural, and economic benefits for future generations. Yet creating and managing these areas is easier said than done. Aronson and colleagues contend that extreme events, such as earthquakes, lava flows, and tsunamis, should be taken into account when determining the size of and managing such protected areas.

“The rhetoric of conservation often includes the appeal of preserving ecosystems so that our children’s children can enjoy Nature’s bounty,” says Aronson. “That translates to about 200 years, but ecosystems last far longer than three generations of their human stewards. We challenge marine conservationists to plan on a millennial scale. Rare, catastrophic events are the backdrop to human actions. Those rare events should be factored into determining the sizes of marine reserves and their levels of protection, whatever else might be expected to happen along the way. After all, a once-in-a-thousand-year disaster could still occur next week.”

Irish Weather Online



Edited by Marty (09/13/11 07:22 PM)

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#416118 - 09/13/11 07:26 PM Re: Belizean Reefs Destroyed By 09 Honduran Earthquake [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

BELIZEAN BARRIER REEF SUNK BY QUAKE

Belizean_Island
The last three decades haven't been kind to the Belizean Barrier Reef, a 190 mile (300 kilometer) long section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system.

First, two dominant species of coral died off due to disease and an El Nino event. Then in 2009, large sections of the barrier reef slid into deeper waters and were destroyed after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake shook the Caribbean.

The quake, which originated 81 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of La Ceiba, Honduras, caused landslides on the undersea slopes where the corals grew.

A team from the Florida Institute of Technology recently reported on the devastation in the journal Ecology.

The researchers had been monitoring the reefs in the lagoons off the coast of Belize from 1986 to 2009. When they returned in 2010, they found that about half of the reefs in a 375-square-kilometer (144-square-mile) area had gone the way of Atlantis. Only sediment and coral skeletal debris remained where the reefs once were.

Belize Reef_247BLOG: WW2 Shipwrecks: Monitors of Climate Change

The quake made an already dire situation worse.

Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) was the dominant species in the area for the past 4000 years, according to radio-carbon dating of reef cores. But starting in 1986, staghorn was virtually wiped out in the area by a bacterial infection called white-band disease.

By 1995, lettuce coral had taken over as top coral. Then a harsh El Nino in 1998 brought high temperatures and wiped out the lettuce coral.

"The prior losses of both staghorn and lettuce corals drastically weakened the resilience of the coral assemblages on the reef slopes," says lead author Richard Aronson of the Florida Institute of Technology in a press release.

"In other words, if neither white-band disease nor bleaching had occurred, staghorn coral might have continued its millennial-scale dominance of the areas not destroyed by the quake," said Aronson.

After the staghorn and lettuce corals were gone, the area was taken over by seaweed, and an encrusting sponge which clung to the skeletons of the deceased corals.

Staghorn coral

By the time the quake struck there wasn't much left of the reef Aronson's team first studied in the 80's. Much of what was left then sank into the depths.

The possibility of natural disasters should be incorporated into conservation strategies, said Aronson.

"The rhetoric of conservation often includes the appeal of preserving ecosystems so that our children's children can enjoy Nature's bounty," said Aronson. "That translates to about 200 years, but ecosystems last far longer than three generations of their human stewards. We challenge marine conservationists to plan on a millennial scale.”

“Rare, catastrophic events are the backdrop to human actions. Those rare events should be factored into determining the sizes of marine reserves and their levels of protection, whatever else might be expected to happen along the way,” said Aronson.

"After all, a once-in-a-thousand-year disaster could still occur next week," said Aronson.

Tim Wall reports from Siguatepeque, Honduras, where he teaches journalism to fifth and sixth grade public school students.

IMAGES:

An island surrounded by reefs off the coast of Belize (Wikimedia Commons)

Coral and sponges on a reef in the Caribbean near Santa Lucia (Wikimedia Commons)

Healthy staghorn coral (Wikimedia Commons)

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