My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: How Parrotfish and Sea Urchins ban saves Coral Reef, Beaches and US$3 billion Jamaican Tourism

Saturday, July 12, 2014

How Parrotfish and Sea Urchins ban saves Coral Reef, Beaches and US$3 billion Jamaican Tourism

“The loss of these species breaks the delicate balance of Coral Ecosystems and allows algae, on which they feed, to smother the reefs,” “Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline... We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”

Lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior advisor on Coral Reefs, Jeremy Jackson commenting on the Caribbean Coral Reefs and their connection to Parrotfish and Sea Urchins

Folks, we’ve got a serious problem developing in the Caribbean Ocean that’s ironically, connected to Coral Reef, Climate Change, Rising Sea Levels and Beach Erosion.

A Recent study conducted by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), a global environmental organization I’ve never really cared about until now, has suddenly declared that we have to stop eating Parrotfish as stated in “Parrotfish ban?”, published Wednesday, July 09, 2014  BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor, The Jamaica Observer.

The IUCN has conducted a three (3) year study entitled Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012 that cites the work of 90 IUCN scientists on the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the United Nations Environment Programme. What they've published in this study is truly troubling and may be a bit hard to swallow, especially for Parrotfish lovers.

Basically their study shows that:

1.      50% decline in Caribbean Coral Reef since 1970's
2.      Disappearance of Coral Reefs in 20 years due to loss of Sea Urchins and Parrotfish
3.      Coral Reef disappearance isn't caused primarily by Climate Change, being only one factor

Even more troubling is their recommendation to add Parrotfish and Sea Urchins to the list of specially protected species under the SPAW Protocol (Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife). In short, Jamaicans may have to stop eating the Parrotfish and removing Sea Urchins from the Sea altogether.

The overfishing of Parrotfish and Sea Urchins may be connected to the slow death of the Coral Reefs. But even more troubling may be the connection to why Climate Change, not necessarily Global Warming, is now set to ramp up in the next decade with the Summer of 2014 already looking to be a hot one as long predicted in my blog article entitled “DIY Alternative Energy - How to keep cool and Electricity Bills low in the future as Global Warming Scientists predict higher Temperature within the next Decade”. 

In short we gotta stop eating Parrotfish and taking Sea Urchins out of the Sea to make decorative jewellery, as their presence is what maintain the Coral Reefs. And why are Coral Reef so important anyway? But how exactly are the Parrotfish and Sea Urchins Connected to the survival of the Coral Reef? Finally, what’s the connection to all of this to Climate Change, Rising Sea Levels and increased Beach Erosion?

Answers are forthcoming from under the Caribbean Sea and they're not very pleasant.

Parrotfish and Coral Reef – Lovers of Algae that help to keep the Coral Reef Healthy and Clean

Coral are basically the skeletal remains of tiny polyps that attach themselves to rocks and seabed under the Sea. These skeletal remains take millions of years to build up and have been around for at least 400 million years, based on our Fossil Records. Close relatives of the Sea anemone and Jellyfish, Polyps are immobile animals that live in a symbiotic relationship with algae that give them their varied and wild colours.

As they thrive and feed, they secrete Calcium Carbonate  (CaCO2) as their waste product, very similar to how plants on land exhale Oxygen (O2) as their waste product, hence they moniker “Rainforest of the Sea”. Over millions of years, these polyps die, and their Calcium Carbonate (CaCO2) deposits and their dead bodies form the Coral. Thus the Coral isn't alive; rather, it's the polyps living inside these structures that make them alive, like Burrowing Owls living quietly in the ground.

Eventually, when they grow co-operatively into larger structures over millions of years, often stretching for miles under the Ocean, they are called Reef Building Coral and these massive structures are called Coral Reef. So why the concern over some Calcium Carbonate (CaCO2) secreting colourful animals?

Well, although they're less than 0.1% of the Ocean surface, Coral Reef are home to 25% of Ocean life. According to Biologists, a diverse set of life may have specifically evolved over those millions of years to spawn, live and die in the Coral Reef, which is often a nursery for Fish.

In addition to this they help to trap Carbon Dioxide (CO2) dissolved in Water with the help of the algae that live on them. These Coral convert Carbon Dioxide (CO2) into Calcium Carbonate (CaCO2), trapping the Greenhouse Gas that's responsible for Climate Change or Global Warming, whichever term you prefer and makes you feel more comfortable.

Additionally, theses structures have evolved over millions of years to resist Sea Erosion due to the fact that they're constantly building up themselves. Because they usually occur in Sea Water that usually 50 feet deep in most places, they are often located closet to coast lines and beaches. They thus act as a natural Sea Break to halt the strength of incoming waves from Tidal forces or even Hurricanes and thus reduce beach Erosion.

However, they're facing a problem: Mankind.

When their living conditions are affected, they die, releasing their algae partners and turn a bone white colour of the Calcium Carbonate (CaCO2) that they secrete in a process called Blanching. Due to the fact that they're sensitive to conditions such as sunlight, Ocean temperature, Water acidity/alkalinity, Ocean currents and animal and human activity, they're slowly being damaged by the following:

1.      Solid Waste Pollution i.e. PETE and HDPE Plastic
2.      Climate Change
3.      Overfishing
4.      Sea Eco-tourism
5.      Ocean acidification due to pollution i.e. Dumping of Raw Sewage

This is where the Parrotfish and Sea Urchin come into the story.

Parrotfish and Sea Urchin – Like Sands through the Hourglass, so are the Days of Coral’s Lives

Parrotfish and Sea Urchins are needed as they encourage the healthy growth of the Coral Reef. They do two things specifically that help Coral Reef to thrive and grow:

1.      Remove excess algae by eating them
2.      Excrete Silica compounds that make up Sand that build up beaches

According to Director of projects with the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society, Lenbert Williams, Parrotfish produce an awful lot of Sand that helps to build up the Beaches, quote:
“A mature parrotfish can weigh up to 40 lbs and in its lifetime it generates about 800 lbs of Sand. So every time you eat a parrotfish you are denying the beach of 800 lbs of Sand”.

Thus declaring them as specially protected species under the SPAW Protocol would indirectly help the Coral Reef to regenerate and come back from the brink of extinction. Combined with conservation efforts to rebuild the Coral Reef such as reducing Human Pollution and building up underwater structures for polyps to attach themselves, the Coral Reef will start to grow.

More immediately, there's a need to protect Parrotfish and fish in general from the predatory Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans), whose population is allegedly still on the rise as stated in Lionfish Still On The Prowl In Negril, Published Saturday May 10, 2014, by Claudia Gardner, Assignment Coordinator, The Jamaica Gleaner, despite claims that NEPA’s (National Environment and Planning Agency) MTIASIC (Mitigating the Threat of Invasive Alien Species in the Insular Caribbean) had reduce their population by some 66% to less that 60 per hectare.
But stop eating Parrotfish?

Jamaicans are just getting used to eating Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) as a means of reducing their growth as stated in my blog article entitled Rainforest Seafoods vs the Lionfish - KFC iTwist in Yendi Phillip's Emerald Forest”. Now we have to stop eating Parrotfish as well?

This won't go down well with some Jamaicans who see the colourful fish as a Sunday Dinner Staple. But according to the article “To Save Coral Reefs, Start With Parrotfish”, published July 2, 2014 by Ayana Elizabeth of Waitt Institute, National Geographic, conservation efforts are yield results in Barbuda, with Coral Reefs, the Rainforests of the Sea, rebounding.

The Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012 Study also lists the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire as an example of an area where harmful fishing of Parrotfish has been banned and Coral Reef are on the rebound.

Here in Jamaica, our Tourism product is directly linked to Beaches and the Coral Reef with some US$3 billion generated directly and indirectly from Eco-Tourism and Fishing to quote a statement issued by the CCCCC (Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre) to The Jamaica Observer: “Caribbean reefs generate more than US$3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries. This is a problem we can solve, to great benefit of Ecosystems and economies. Here’s to hoping 2014 continues to be a year of strong action for Ocean conservation, not just for establishing marine reserves, but also for saving Parrotfish and therefore, Caribbean reefs.”

Dead Coral Reef Scenario – Can I have the Climate Change, Rising Sea Levels and Beach Erosion Combo Please

But let’s paint an extreme scenario as to what happens when the Parrotfish, Sea Urchins and Coral Reefs are missing from the Sea Ecosystem.

If the Coral Reef die and Parrotfish are overfished and Sea Urchins all killed off, then there’s nothing to create Sand to replenish the Beaches and keep the algae from overgrowing the Coral Reef. The Coral Reef then begins to be blanched, affected by the already polluted Water and slowly die.

Beaches are then more easily eroded as there's no breakwater to stop Beach Erosion by Sea Waves. Fish will eventually die, as many of these Coral Reef act as sanctuaries for Fish to spawn and grow. Their death means that good fishing ground will disappear as they migrate elsewhere to spawn, an effect similar to destroying Mangrove Wetlands near the mouths of Rivers entering the Sea.

But it's the Climate Charge connection to Coral Reefs that's more troubling.

When the Coral Reef die, just like the Rainforests in the Amazon, there's nothing to trap Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the seas. Gradually the acidity of the seas will rise due to excess dissolved Carbon Dioxide (CO2). When this happens, life in the Sea becomes next to impossible as in addition to becoming more acidic, the level of Oxygen (O2) in the Sea also decreases. As a lot of Sea mammals and fish breathe Oxygen (O2), the main output of these polyps living in the Coral Reef along with Calcium Carbonate (CaCO2), these Sea Creatures will slowly suffocate to death.

Eventually, in this scenario, the excess Carbon Dioxide (CO2) will reach a saturation point in the Oceans. With nothing to absorb it, it'll escape into the atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a Greenhouse Gas and added to the other Greenhouse Gases such as Methane and man-made CFC (Clouro-Fluoro Carbons); it'll rapidly accelerate the formation of holes in the ozone layer over the North and South Poles. That results in more harmful Solar Radiation coming in at the Polar Regions, slowly raising Temperatures Globally and thus increasing the melting of the Polar Ice Caps and Glaciers of Ice that have been frozen for millennia.

That melt Water enters the Sea and albeit it might help to dilute the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) saturated Water, it does nothing for Oxygen (O2) levels, as at that point the Oceans and Seas would be dying. But the worst part is that the increase amount of Water in the Sea cause by the Melting of Polar Ice Caps and Glaciers of Ice will cause Sea Levels to Rise. This means more violent storms and increased beach Erosion and thus gradual loss of Coastline.

Effectively, this is the Climate Change, Rising Sea Levels and increased Beach Erosion combo that may take place over several decades.  In effect, it would be an ample demonstration of the Butterfly Effect that started by the overfishing of the Parrotfish and killing of Sea Urchins which resulted in the death of Coral Reefs via the various factors mentioned above.

Parrotfish and the CCCCC – Parrotfish Ban will be unpopular as Fish Sanctuaries can help

So what can we do since we clearly have an insatiable appetite for Fish, particularly the Parrotfish?

Raising Parrotfish in Protected Fish Sanctuaries or Special Fisheries Conservation Areas is an excellent albeit costly venture, as they can be grown and released back into the wild to rebuild the Parrotfish population. It already been demonstrated to be successful by the 5C's, which runs some 14 Fish Sanctuaries in Jamaica, which grow and restore Fish and Lobster population by releasing them back into the wild. To quote the 5C's : “There is absolutely no reason why the early successes in the fish sanctuaries at Bluefield’s Bay, Galleon in St Elizabeth and Oracabessa cannot be replicated and expanded around Jamaica, and for that matter in the wider Caribbean”.

This can be a success story if the GOJ is interested in preserving their US$3 billion Tourism Cash Cow, as the Coral Reefs and their vibrant Ecosystem of flora and fauna are a part of the reason many come to Jamaica in the first place. So what are we waiting for? Let's get conservation efforts under way to save not only the Jamaican Tourism Product but also Jamaica from the long-term effects of Climate Change.

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