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April 1, 1996 E-mail:

Scientists Collaborate to Save Florida's Carbonate Reefs

ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- Coral reefs are as fragile as they are beautiful but until recently, few reef protection or research programs existed. In the late 1980s, however, both scientists and tourists could clearly observe that huge tracts of coral in the Florida Keys were in trouble. Responding to public pressure, Congress designated the entire Florida reef tract a National Marine Sanctuary; at last, research funds started to flow toward the stricken area. The April issue of GEOTIMES describes how biologists, hydrologists, geologists, chemists, and marine scientists are working together to protect reef organisms.
The interdisciplinary aspect of this research in itself is unique, says Eugene A. Shinn (U.S. Geological Survey, Center for Coastal Geology) in the article, "No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem." He writes: "A lesson for geoscientists is that geology can be integrated with and applied to environmental problems other than traditional geohazards. It is important to work closely with biologists, talk with conservation groups, and communicate directly with the public and the media..." What Shinn and his colleagues have discovered is that excess-nutrient problems in Florida Bay affect offshore coral reefs. "The bay and reef tract are a linked system," he observes, "and ... the reefs, and Keys in general, lie downstream in the watershed of south Florida."
Esther C. Peters and Harry B. McCarty, a husband-and-wife team who have worked together on diseases of marine organisms since 1981, explain what keeps coral reefs healthy and what factors cause disease. Most diseases have more than one cause, they report in the article, "Carbonate Crisis?". Exposure to adverse environmental conditions can alter the resistance of an organism, making it more vulnerable to invasion by pathogens. Several new coral diseases are described. At the 8th International Coral Reef Symposium in Panama this summer, scientists will inaugurate the "Year of the Reef," an intensive evaluation of the condition of reefs around the world, to gain a better understanding of whether coral reefs are in crisis.
What's North Carolina doing in the Florida Keys? Directing the nation's largest coral reef science program, states Steven Miller, science director of the National Undersea Research Center/University of North Carolina at Wilmington. His article, "Carolina, the Keys, and Coral Reef Research," describes the center's research-diving and saturation-diving programs and the role of its underwater laboratory, "Aquarius." The facility provides nearly unlimited diving time and access to reefs with good coral cover, good fish diversity and abundance, and well-developed sponge and soft-coral communities. Research funded by the center is providing what Miller describes as "the scientific foundation for making intelligent management decisions about protecting and using our wasted resources."

Coming in May ... GEOTIMES mixes oil and water in feature articles describing oil exploration in Venezuela, oil politics in the United States, and the mineral waters of New York's Saratoga Springs.

GEOTIMES is published by the American Geological Institute, a non-profit federation of 29 member societies representing 80,000 earth and environmental scientists. The Institute provides information services to a worldwide geoscience community through its books, publications, and GeoRef, an online bibliographic database of more than 1.9 million geological references -- the most comprehensive geoscience database in the world. AGI's Government Affairs Program (GAP) serves as a leading voice in Washington, D.C., on science-policy issues of concern to the nation's geoscience community. The Institute coordinates improvements in earth-science education, offers scholarship assistance to minority students, and works to increase public awareness of the vital role geology plays in our society.

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