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DESECRATION &
RENEWAL

“There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” 

 

WENDELL BERRY  writer, farmer

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A hidden treasure found in the twilight zone off Tahiti

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A spectacular coral reef has been found between 35 and 70 metres below sea level near Tahiti, and it seems to be in good health despite the global biodiversity crisis

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January 20, 2022. 

 

Laetitia Hédouin, of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, first came across the reef by chance in late 2021. Now she and colleagues have undertaken a survey diving expedition to more fully explore her scientific discovery. The diving team came across spectacular rose-shaped coral forms which prove to be part of a reef that stretches for more than 3 kilometres and measures 70 metres across at its widest. It is one of the largest reefs found at such depths. 

“It was magical to witness giant, beautiful rose corals which stretch for as far as the eye can see,” said Alexis Rosenfeld, a French underwater photographer on the Unesco-led team. “It was like a work of art.”

 

Laetitia Hédouin pointed out that a remarkable thing about this find is its pristine condition: “It’s a very healthy reef, like a dream come true. In the middle of the biodiversity crisis, it is very good news.”

The deep reef does not appear to have suffered the bleaching events that damaged neighbouring sites in shallower waters in 2019. During dives totalling 200 hours, researchers were able to witness the coral spawning. 

 

"This reef is also one of very few we have found at such depths, in what is known as the twilight zone of the ocean", said Julian Barbière at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. “There might be many more large reefs in our ocean at such depth that require more investigation. This could be one of the largest, but the fact is that we haven’t really looked for coral reefs in deeper waters.

 

"As it stands, only 20 per cent of the seafloor has been mapped. By mapping more of the ocean, at even greater depths, researchers hope to understand the best ways to protect and manage these rich ecosystems."  

Audrey Azoulay, Unesco’s director general added: “To date, we know the surface of the moon better than the deep ocean." 

 

 

 

 

 

Coral reefs are believed by many scientists to have the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem on the planet, even more than tropical rainforests. Occupying less than one percent of the ocean floor, they are home to more than 25per cent of all marine life. But they are especially vulnerable in the face of increasing human-driven pressures such as climate change, and the increasingly frequent extreme weather incidents, such as tsunamis and cyclones. 

 

Laetitia Hédouin: "Coral reefs are important for protection, management and conservation targets. Millions of people rely on the "ecosystem services" provided by reefs for their livelihoods. We need them for fisheries, for tourism, even for

coastal protection.” 

 

“There are also benefits to coral reefs which are not always that obvious,” said Julian Barbière. “We are finding more and more potential medical solutions through some of the marine organisms that lived in those ecosystems. Those could help develop drugs to treat cancer or arthritis, for example.”

Professor Murray Roberts, a marine scientist at the University of Edinburgh, told the BBC: “As shallow waters warm faster than the deeper waters we may find these deeper reef systems are refuges for corals in the future. We need to get out there to map these

special places.” 

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Newly discovered fish songs demonstrate
reef restoration success

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December 2021

 

Whoops, croaks, growls, raspberries and foghorns are among the sounds that

demonstrate the success of a coral reef restoration project

Thousands of square metres of coral are being grown on previously destroyed reefs in Indonesia, but previously it was unclear whether these new corals would revive the entire reef ecosystem. Now a new study, led by researchers from the University of Bristoland the University of Exeter, finds a healthy, diverse soundscape on the restored reefs. These sounds - many of which have never been recorded before - can be used alongside visual observations to monitor these vital ecosystems.

 

"Some of the sounds we recorded are really bizarre and new to us as scientists," says Professor Steve Simpson of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences. "We have a lot still to learn about what they all mean and the animals that are making them. But for now, it’s amazing to be able to hear the ecosystem come back to life."

 

Lead author Dr Tim Lamont, of the University of Exeter and the Mars Coral Reef Restoration Project, which is restoring the reefs in central Indonesia, adds: "Restoration projects can be successful at growing coral, but that’s only part of the ecosystem. This study provides exciting evidence that restoration really works for the other reef creatures too - by listening to the reefs, we’ve documented the return of a diverse

range of animals."

The soundscapes of the restored reefs are not identical to those of existing healthy reefs - but the diversity of sounds is similar, suggesting a healthy and functioning ecosystem.There were significantly more fish sounds recorded on both healthy and restored reefs than on

degraded reefs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This study used acoustic recordings taken in 2018 and 2019 as part of the monitoring programme for the Mars Coral Reef Restoration Project.

The results are positive for the project's approach, in which hexagonal metal frames called ‘Reef Stars’ are seeded with coral and laid over a large area. The Reef Stars stabilise loose rubble and kickstart rapid coral growth, leading to the revival of the wider ecosystem.

Mochyudho Prasetya, of the Mars Coral Reef Restoration Project: "We have been restoring and monitoring these reefs here in Indonesia for many years. Now it is amazing to see more and more evidence that our work is helping the reefs come back to life."

Professor David Smith, Chief Marine Scientist for Mars Incorporated: "When the soundscape comes back like this, the reef has a better chance of becoming self-sustaining because those sounds attract more animals that maintain and diversify reef populations."

 

Asked about the multiple threats facing coral reefs, including climate change and water pollution, Dr Lamont said: "If we don't address these wider problems, conditions for reefs will get more and more hostile and eventually restoration will become impossible.

 

"Our study shows that reef restoration can really work, but it's only part of a solution that must also include rapid action on climate change and other threats to reefs worldwide."

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