Fri, 13 October 2023
The summer was tough on corals due to bleaching caused by high ocean temperatures. However, a researcher in Florida is trying to help by using crabs to eat the algae that cover the corals and hinder their growth. This ambitious plan involves breeding a quarter of a million Caribbean king crabs each year.
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The summer presented significant challenges for corals as they experienced widespread bleaching events caused by high ocean temperatures. In Florida waters, temperatures soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to extensive coral bleaching. Coral bleaching occurs when corals expel the algae, known as zoanthellae, that reside within their tissues. These algae are vital for the growth and survival of corals as they provide them with food through photosynthesis. When the algae leave the coral skeleton, the corals lose their color and become bleached, appearing white. Prolonged bleaching can ultimately result in the death of corals.
Coral reefs play a crucial role in the ecosystem by providing essential habitats for fish, protecting shorelines, and serving as a food source for fishers. Protecting coral reefs is vital for our survival in numerous ways. However, the escalating impacts of climate change pose a significant threat to coral reefs worldwide. Climate change, with its rising sea surface temperatures, is causing more frequent and severe bleaching events. This trend is deeply concerning as corals require optimal conditions to grow and thrive. If corals are unable to grow, critical habitats will be lost, leading to dire consequences.
While individuals may feel limited in their ability to directly address climate change and its impacts on corals, there are still actions that can be taken to help protect and support these vulnerable ecosystems. Researchers suggest that reducing other stressors on corals, such as improving water quality and minimizing coastal development, can have a positive impact. High nutrient waters and sedimentation can harm corals by blocking sunlight and inhibiting their growth. By taking steps to minimize these stressors, individuals can contribute to the overall health and resilience of coral reefs.
In the episode, Dr. Jason Spadaro, a researcher at Moat Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in the Florida Keys, is leading an ambitious plan to breed a quarter of a million Caribbean king crabs each year. The purpose of breeding these crabs is not for seafood consumption, but rather to help coral reefs survive by consuming algae.
Corals are photosynthetic and symbiotic animals that rely on a type of algae called zooxanthellae to reside within their skeleton. However, when algae overgrows the corals, it blocks their access to sunlight, ultimately leading to their demise. This is where the crabs come in. Research conducted by Dr. Spadaro revealed that reefs with crabs had approximately 85% less algae compared to reefs without crabs. The crabs consume the algae, which aids the corals by removing the algae that covers them and inhibits their growth.
The need for crabs to consume algae is particularly crucial due to the challenges faced by coral reefs, such as high sea surface temperatures and nutrient pollution, which promote algae growth. Additionally, overfishing of herbivorous fish and diseases affecting urchins have resulted in a decline in the number of animals that naturally consume algae on the reefs. This lack of algae-eating animals has created an imbalance where the algae is not being sufficiently controlled.
To address this issue, Dr. Spadaro is working on introducing Caribbean king crabs to the Florida Key Reefs. He has established breeding facilities in both Sarasota, Florida, and the Florida Keys, with approximately 100 crabs in the Keys and 200 in Sarasota. By breeding and releasing these crabs into the reefs, he aims to increase the number of algae-consuming animals and help maintain a healthy balance between corals and algae.
The host of the podcast is currently recording the episode at his parents' house to assist in taking care of them. He explains that his mom has recently contracted COVID and is isolating in the basement, while his dad is immunocompromised. The host is staying with his parents to ensure his dad remains as healthy as possible and to provide assistance during this time. This personal situation has resulted in the host recording the episode late at night on a Thursday to ensure that the episodes can still be published on time.