Weird Fish Lady BLOG
1st May 2022
I’ve been told a wonderful tale recently about how scientists are working to help to save our Coral Reefs and I’d like to share that with you later, but first, let me check if you are aware of the problems I’ve been telling you about with Oceans.
In my talks, books and articles for magazines, I’ve pushed the ideas about why it is important to keep the oceans healthy. We need to stop pollution of the oceans with plastic, and oil and also do something about the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere – because the oceans are the largest carbon sink on Earth, with the oceans absorbing more CO2 pollution than anywhere else. The result is that the carbon dioxide entering the oceans is warming up the water, and there is so much carbon dioxide in the oceans, the ocean is now also turning into carbonic acid and ocean water is becoming acidic.
So – three problems with the health of the oceans and two of those – heat and acidity are damaging coral reefs in particular.
Coral Reefs are the largest natural environments on the planet. The largest is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and is the only living organism that can be seen from space. There are coral reefs all around the world, big and small, some are tropical in warm waters, but you can also get coral reefs in colder waters, such as the non-tropical coral reefs which grow in the cold British waters of the North Sea.
Firstly, some basic science - let’s remember there are five ‘kingdoms’ of life on Earth: Animals, Plants, Algae, Fungi and Bacteria.
Reefs are made up of tiny coral polyps, which are animals. These coral polyps live together in communities of different species of coral and they are not mobile creatures, they don’t run around like the animals we know on land, they just sit in their communities and take nutrients out of the water, often by using tentacles that open and shut up to 40 times a minute.
The corals allow special algae to live inside their bodies. The algae, called zooxanthellae, are in a symbiotic relationship with the coral polyp where living together is advantageous to both species. The algae need to be protected so the coral holds the algae safely inside the polyp at the top of the coral reef where it is in the sunlight. The algae use the sunlight in a chemical reaction called photosynthesis and the products of this reaction are oxygen and glucose. The coral polyp benefits from the algae producing oxygen and glucose as the polyp uses these two chemicals for making energy in their cells. So, both the polyp and the algae are happy. The algae inside the corals are also responsible for giving corals their wonderful colours.
However, when the ocean waters get too warm, the algae leave the polyps. The corals turn white, known as bleaching, as the corals no longer have the colourful algae. Without the algae, the coral polyps also do not have a supply of oxygen and glucose, so the coral polyps die.
The bleaching is caused by the increase in the heat of the water, which is caused by excess carbon dioxide being absorbed by the oceans.
For some years now, scientists have been taking samples of healthy coral and growing them in laboratories where they have produced coral that is more resilient to the warmer waters. They are ‘breeding’ coral which can retain the algae in higher water temperatures. Scientists then place the resilient coral back into the reef systems. It takes a while to get the new coral to grow, but it is a successful strategy to help save the coral reefs.
NOW … what about this story I heard from a friend – it seems one scientist has been able to speed up the growth rate of the new resilient coral – and increase it by a thousand per cent! How did this scientist make this discovery? He simply accidently dropped a sample of hard coral that he was working with … and it shattered into a thousand pieces all over the laboratory floor.
However, instead of throwing all the pieces away, he put them all into the tank where the corals were being helped to resist the warmer water and bingo … the tiny pieces grew fast … and so much faster than the bigger pieces of coral the scientists were previously working with. Scientists are now testing how small a piece of coral has to be to go through the process of becoming resilient to warm water and how quickly the smallest piece will grow.
The repair of the coral reefs is so important environmentally, as the majority of ocean life lives in and around the coral reefs. The diversity of ocean life is threatened by the loss of healthy reefs. All living creatures in the oceans are part of diverse and interconnected food chains and webs. The loss of coral kills the coral-eating creatures, and then the next layer of life – the larger carnivores have no food either. The reefs and all the diversity of life that lives in and around them is soon affected and there becomes a critical time when all the species which rely on the reef become extinct.
So, dropping a piece of coral and finding it will grow quicker in smaller pieces has led to the reefs getting the speedier placement of resilient coral and subsequent protection of the coral reefs.
I found this to be a great story, as so often great scientists are credited with discovering things because they have such incredible brains to think about what they are doing … but sometimes it is an accident or just a chance remark that brings a train of thought leading to a scientific discovery.
One of my favourite scientific stories is about a ‘chance’ discovery. It comes from 1953 when the final understanding of the genetic code of DNA was actually found through a chance encounter. The scientists Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the double-helix structure of DNA and from that discovery, we gained the ability to understand the genetics of both humans and different species of animals, leading to a better understanding of evolution, medicine and heredity throughout history. The discovery changed the world of biological sciences, and the genetic science that we now use is of invaluable use to us all.
How did ‘chance’ play a part? Crick and Watson had been working for years to understand the structure of DNA, but the chance encounter of them stopping for a cup of coffee near the desk of one of their assistants gave them the final answer.
A scientist called Rosamund Franklin was an X-ray crystallographer and on her desk, she had some x-rays of DNA that she’d been working on. Crick and Watson saw her work and bingo – they made the connection they needed. The discovery of the structure was made. Franklin, unfortunately, died of cancer in 1958 whilst Crick, Watson and another colleague Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their work on the DNA structure. There were no posthumous awards at the Nobel Prize ceremonies at that time, so Rosalind Franklin was not given any credit for her work.
A brilliant story and also a sad one … but it also shows how scientific discoveries can leap forward with just a look at an x-ray or by dropping a coral fragment and smashing it into a thousand pieces.
This brings me back to the environmental problems we are all facing. There are scientists and engineers working around the world on finding answers to our climate problems. All important work – whether it is working to make small pieces of coral resilient or finding more efficient ways of working with wind turbines or electric cars. There is so much going on that it is impossible for me to report on it all but I’d love it if you could understand how close we are to a new world – a world of the future – a world where we have slowed down or even reversed climate change – a world where extinction of species has fallen. We are already beyond the point of no return as regards the extinction of some species – but if we look at what the scientists are doing – making discoveries from skill, brainpower – and of course ‘chance’ – then we should be able to retain the majority of the life we know and love on this beautiful planet.
No doom and gloom here folks – check out some of the science which is increasingly changing our world for the better. I firmly believe we are heading for a better future and I’d love it if you could share the idea too.
I’m listing below just a few of the things that humans are doing to ‘save’ the planet and this short list is not even 0.001% of what is actually happening – but look upon all this work as ‘hope’ for the future.
Work is taking place around the world by scientists, with help from volunteers such as Rotarians, to improve the following:
New energy systems
Clean-up of pollution
… try googling some of these – and you’ll be amazed at what is happening in our wonderful world.
Look forward in hope …
See you next month!
(Remember – a blog is just the opinion of one person. All views expressed in this blog are those of the author)
How can I help you get involved with environmental education?
Teacher’s Resources and ‘special’ books
I work with a team of volunteers to produce Environmental Education Resources for Primary Schools which inform the next generation about Oceans, the Earth, Environmental issues and Climate Change. If you want to help primary schools with gifts of any of these resources then go to the Rotary page of my website (www.barnettauthor.co.uk )
WeirdFish Lady Visits: I’m continuing to zoom into primary schools around the UK – and further afield with my WeirdFish Lady environmental workshops and if a school you know wants me to do a Primary School visit then please contact me. (firstname.lastname@example.org )
Talks for adults: There are two pre-recorded talks now available for Rotary Clubs to show to their members.
1. ‘Ocean World’ environmental talk and
2. ‘What can we do NOW?’ - how we can all help the environment.
Both talks last just 30 minutes. Watching a pre-recorded talk will give your Club the flexibility to educate/entertain your club members at any time that suits you so why not put a date in your Speaker’s calendar. Go to the Rotary Page of my website to find the details. (www.barnettauthor.co.uk )
'What We Do' Main Pages:
Deborah Connolly, retired Rotarian from the Rotary Club of Canterbury, and her husband Geoff, kindly visited us virtually one morning to talk about the Cherry Blossom tree and their visit to Japan, showing their wonderful array of photos.more
In 2004, following the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, The Chemlwood Bridge Rotary Club made a pledge to provide a means of purifying water for the benefit of families that survived natural or non-made disasters.more