World Oceans Day 2022: Action for the ocean with Blueseekers

Meet Tracey, who not only advocates for the environment in her day job, but spends her free time assessing life on coral reefs in the Maldives. She runs @blueseekers, a platform for communicating ideas to help us understand and create better outcomes for the natural world.  If you have ever wondered who the researchers are behind the science telling us where our world is headed, then read on.
 
 
"My love of the ocean has taken me on some beautiful adventures. I studied law and marine science at university and then during my Masters in Coral Reef Science, I was incredibly fortunate to become involved in a variety of long-term research projects in the southern Maldives. Some of these projects included recording wave data and island geomorphology to assess the risk that low-lying atoll communities face under future sea level rise; developing and testing a method to measure reef growth rates; and investigating island development and evolution.
In my day job, I get to advocate for better environmental outcomes at an NGO, with a focus on fisheries management. It's a desk-bound role, so I'm lucky that my employers have accommodated my desire to pursue coral-reef related escapades as a side-hustle!"
 

"I have just returned from a field expedition to Huvadhoo Atoll in the southern Maldives where I was assisting a team of four scientists with various projects.  One of the projects which began in 2017 involves taking a custom-designed reef measuring frame out to the local reef flat at low tide and dropping pins to record micro-scale changes in topography. Repeat measurements enable us to track annual changes in reef surface elevation. Coral reefs act as natural breakwaters that protect low-lying islands from the majority of incident wave energy.  By directly measuring reef elevation change, we enable decision-makers to determine where resources should be prioritised for effective adaptation to protect communities living on the adjacent atolls who will be affected by sea level rise."

 

 "Coral reefs are diverse and complex systems. The living reef surface provides an important habitat for hundreds of marine species and supports important fisheries as well. It also acts as an important source of calcium carbonate material. Corals and other calcifying organisms harness energy from the sun to deposit calcium carbonate in the form of diverse skeletons. At the same time, waves and parrotfish bio-erosion break the reef surface down, making calcium carbonate material available as sand for redistribution.  In remote atoll environments, literally every feature and landform, including reef islands, are comprised of sand and coral rubble that was generated by living organisms (like parrotfish) on adjacent reefs!"

 

 

 "Many of these functions are under threat as a result of climate change impacts, which include ocean warming, changes in ocean chemistry, and sea level rise. 

I first visited the Maldives as a postgraduate student in 2016. There was luxuriant coral cover and I was captivated by the life on display. In 2017, a few months before I flew out to complete field surveys, sea surface temperatures in the Maldives (and across much of the tropics) soared. Corals are sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. If the ocean is too hot, corals become increasingly stressed and turn white. This process is known as “coral bleaching”. The 2017 coral bleaching event drove widespread mortality across shallow reef habitats in the Maldives. Instead of recording the life I had observed the year prior, I spent a month trying to find life in a mass coral graveyard. It was confronting and incomprehensible – to lose so much coral so far away from direct human impacts."

 

Image of dead coral in Maldives, 2017. 

"Since 2017, coral recovery has been slow and inconsistent across the sites I have investigated. There have been subsequent ‘heat stress’ events which have constrained recovery. Much of the shallow reef remains dead, but there are some ‘hope spots’ where branching corals have returned at deeper sites. The reef needs time to recover, but faces increasing threats as a result of climate change."

 

  

"Coral reefs are also under threat from a range of direct human stressors, including overfishing and pollution. One of the most visible and confronting issues in the Maldives is plastic pollution. Flotillas of single-use plastic goods, including bottles, shoes, ropes and wrappers surf the tides and dominate the shorelines. Discarded fishing nets are also an issue as they entangle and smother marine life and corals."

 

"These direct threats are easier to control and we can all play a role by being conscious consumers. For example, one year a global shoe company produced a shoe out of recycled ocean plastic and when we visited the local village, large bags of plastic were being collected and sent to a specialised manufacturing facility. Sadly, this initiative stopped when shoe production ceased, but it shows how consumer demand for products using recycled materials can affect positive outcomes in remote locations. The challenge is holding companies to account and supporting those who care so they can continue working on the solution."

 

 "All of my best memories involve being in, on, or around the ocean. I spent my childhood at the beach, fishing with dad off the rocks, catching sprats in my little butterfly net and learning to surf with my brothers. I am determined to protect and restore the marine environment so my niece and nephew (and their spirited generation!) have healthy, wild seas to explore and create happy memories in."

 

  

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