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Pillar Corals

Good morning readers, today I have an insane colony of Pillar Corals for your viewing pleasure that I shot on yesterday’s dive. Not sure if you can tell from the small photo, but there are fish everywhere, this is what a healthy coral reef should look like, all I can say is “Wowzers”! Pillar coral forms an encrusted base from which grow vertical cylindrical, round-ended columns.This coral can grow to a height of 3 m (10 ft) with pillars more than 10 cm (4 in) wide but is usually much smaller than this. The corallites from which the polyps protrude are smaller than 1 cm (0.4 in) in diameter and arranged in shallow meandering valleys with low ridges in between. Pillar coral is a zooxanthellate species, with symbiotic dinoflagellate algae living within the tissues. In sunlight these undergo photosynthesis and most of the organic compounds they produce are transferred to their host, while they make use of the coral’s nitrogenous wastes. These algae give the coral its brownish color and restrict it to living in shallow water into which the sunlight can penetrate. Pillar coral is a slow-growing, long-lived species. A number of columns grow up from a basal plate; if the whole colony is dislodged and topples over, new cylindrical pillars can grow vertically from the fallen coral. Some specimens have been found where this has happened more than once, and the history of the colony can be deduced from its shape.MORE

Meet the World’s Largest Zoa (It’s HUGE!!!)

Sphenopus marsupialis (closed, on left). Credit: Churaumi Okinawa Aquarium

Sphenopus marsupialis (closed, on left). Credit: Churaumi Okinawa Aquarium

 The Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa, Japan recently scored big with one of the most rarely seen and remarkable corals around. This giant polyp had until now never before been found in Japanese waters, and it has also probably never been put on public display until now. The zoas seen alongside this specimen should give a sense of scale, but what will likely surprise many is that this beastly creature is actually a solitary relative of the more familiar and colorful Zoanthus that abound in the aquarium trade.MORE

Microplastics

Micro-Plastic - reefsGood morning, I have something for you that is causing quite a stir in the world right now: Microplastics! I found this mess on the shores of Saint Joris bay and it would take a miracle to clean it all up as it is so small! For those of you new to the word “micro plastic” here is a little information… Microplastics are small plastic particles in the environment that are generally smaller than 1 mm (0.039 in) down to the micrometer range. They can come from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes, and often become embedded in animals’ tissue through ingestion or respiration. Various fish species, such as deposit-feeding lugworms (Arenicola marina), have been shown to have microplastics embedded in their gastrointestinal tracts. Many crustaceans, like the shore crab Carcinus maenas have been seen to integrate microplastics into both their respiratory and digestive tracts. Not only fish and free-living organisms can ingest microplastics. Scleractinian corals, which are primary reef-builders, have been shown to ingest microplastics under laboratory conditions. While the effects of ingestion on these corals has not been studied, corals can easily become stressed and bleach. It was also noted that microplastics were present stuck to the exterior of the corals after exposure in the laboratory. The adherence to the outside of corals can potentially be harmful, because corals cannot handle sediment or any particulate matter on their exterior and slough it off by secreting mucus, and they expend a large amount of energy in the process and increasing the chances of mortality.MORE

An Unusual New Species of Solitary, Sand-dwelling Zoa

Sphenopus exilis. Modified from Reimer & Fujii 2016

Sphenopus exilis. Modified from Reimer & Fujii 2016

 If you’ve ever kept a reef aquarium, then you’re probably already familiar with the soft corals that are classified within the Order Zoantharia. Included here are the ubiquitous “Zoas” and “Palys” that fill many an aquarium, as well as the equally common “Yellow Polyps” (which remarkably still awaits a formal scientific description in Terrazaonthus). Then there are some more rarely seen groups, such as the “Snake Polyps” of the genus Isaurus… the white Epizoanthus associated with the Spider Sponge… the faux-sun coral Parazoanthus axinellae… the Acrozoanthus “Stick Polyps”… and several other odds and ends that occasionally show up. What all these species have in common is that they are colonial organisms that expand through asexual budding; however, a newly described species from Japan shows that such isn’t always the case.MORE

A Second Species of Odontanthias Has Just Been Described From The Atlantic

Odontathias cauoh. Credit: Carvalho-filho et al 2016

Odontathias cauoh. Credit: Carvalho-filho et al 2016

 The bulky, deepwater fishes of the genus Odontanthias are some of the most lusted after anthias in the aquarium trade. The majority of this group’s diversity is found in the Indo-Pacific, where at least 14 species are known. By far the most frequently seen of these is the beautiful and expensive O. borbonius, but several other rarely seen species pop up now and then, such as the bright-yellow Hawaiian endemic O. fuscipinnis and the still undescribed O. cf katayamai found in Japan. Things are considerably more sparse in the Atlantic Ocean, with the only species known from the region being the recently described O. hensleyi from Puerto Rico, but we now have a second member of this group in the Western Hemisphere thanks to the discovery of a single specimen from the isolated reefs of St. Paul’s Rocks in the Central Atlantic.MORE

Local efforts to save reefs proving futile in the face of global degradation

The audience of this blog is likely well aware of the myriad threats that modern coral reef ecosystems face, both global and local: global warming, ocean acidification, pollution, eutrophication, overfishing. There is a broad scientific consensus that the health of coral reefs in most geographic areas continue to fail. But why? How much of each individual stressor can be assigned to any one particular reef’s decline? 

Photo made available by the XL Catlin Seaview Survey shows coral mass mortality at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, amidst the ongoing 2014-2016 global bleaching event. This is the longest lasting and most geographically extensive coral bleaching event in the history of reef research.

Photo made available by the XL Catlin Seaview Survey shows coral mass mortality at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, amidst the ongoing 2014-2016 global bleaching event. This is the longest lasting and most geographically extensive coral bleaching event in the history of reef research.

 Consequently, the question has long been posed: Do remoteness and local conservation efforts preserve coral reefs? Unfortunately, a new paper published in Nature‘s Scientific Reports this week, by John Bruno (UNC Chapel Hill) and Abel Valdivia (Center for Biological Diversity), argues that aggregate global data say “No.” The importance of this work lies in that it is the first global scale test of the hypothesis that “isolated reefs are less degraded…”. The primary take home message is that patterns of coral reef degradation are not geographically correlated with human population density. The straightforward interpretation of this result is that local stressors such as pollution, eutrophication, overfishing, etc., are a trivial threat to coral reef ecosystems in the grand scheme of global threats such as warming and acidification. MORE

A Beautiful New Dwarf Scorpionfish from Caribbean Mesophotic Reefs

The Stellate Scorpionfish Scorpaenodes barrybrowni. Credit: Barry Brown / Baldwin et al 2016

The Stellate Scorpionfish Scorpaenodes barrybrowni. Credit: Barry Brown / Baldwin et al 2016

 There seems to be a never-ending stream of new species being discovered in the Caribbean thanks to the efforts of the Curasub and researchers at the Smithsonian. Most of what we’ve seen so far have been tiny little gobies that would have been nearly impossible to sample without the use of a manned submersible, but the latest fishy find is something quite different—a brand new brightly colored scorpionfish that only grows to a couple inches in length.MORE

Marine Aquarium Aquascaping: The Rule of Thirds

Using the Rule of Thirds to aquascape your reef will create a more visually appealing aquarium

 Aficionados of freshwater planted aquariums have long understood that observing certain rules of composition when aquascaping with plants, rocks, driftwood, and other features can have a tremendous impact on an aquarium’s overall aesthetic impression. While we reefkeepers haven’t traditionally placed much emphasis on composition in our aquascaping approach—at least not in a formal sense—we can certainly enhance our enjoyment of the hobby by implementing some of the same rules. Among the most important composition rules is the “Rule of Thirds.” To apply the Rule of Thirds, imagine that a grid pattern consisting of two equidistant vertical lines and two equidistant horizontal lines is superimposed over the front of your tank. This grid creates nine equal-sized, rectangular sections and visually divides the image in front of you into thirds both vertically and horizontally. Picture that famous image at the beginning of The Brady Bunch TV series (sans the Bradys and Alice, of course), and you’ll have the general idea. Great, so you’ve got a mental grid floating in front of your tank and the theme to The Brady Bunch running in a constant loop through your head. Now what? Well, according to the Rule of Thirds, compositional elements—in this case, aquascaping elements and sessile invertebrates—should be placed along the grid lines and strong focal points should be positioned at points where the lines intersect. For our purposes, a strong focal point could be a particularly impressive coral specimen, a prominent rock projection, etc. MORE


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