Behind the Greens: 5 Questions of Environmental Leaders

By Rotjan, Randi D. | E Magazine, September-October 2010 | Go to article overview

Behind the Greens: 5 Questions of Environmental Leaders


Rotjan, Randi D., E Magazine


1. E Magazine: How do you determine whether a reef is in recovery or in decline?

Randi D. Rotjan: You really need to visit a system over time, to get a sense for where it's going, and that is something that scientists really struggle with because we've only been studying reefs for a relatively short period. What we tend to do is integrate information from a variety of sources. We look at Paleo data [data from natural sources, like tree rings and coral growth], and we use a huge series of indicators to assess the health or state of a reef to figure out whether the trajectory is trending up or down.

2. E: Why is it that some reefs are on the upswing while others fail?

R.D.R.: For reefs, it's death by a thousand cuts. There are so many problems affecting reefs right now that the minute one stressor is relieved, another stressor takes over. There's over-fishing, climate change, too many nutrients in the water, coral disease, destruction, over-sedimentation, habitat loss, coastal development--all of these things impact reefs in various ways.

3. E: How have marine species and ecosystems responded to global changes like warmer waters and rising sea levels?

R.D.R.: Warmer waters are particularly problematic for coral reefs because corals are animals that rely on a symbiosis with plantlike cellular organisms, which photosynthesize the same way plants do. These algal symbionts rely on sunlight and live within an extremely narrow temperature range, and many of them are intolerant of very wild temperature fluctuations. …

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