[Coral-List] Giant barrel sponges taking over Florida's reefs (Coral-List Digest, Vol 85, Issue 5)

Alex Brylske brylske at me.com
Tue Sep 8 14:24:38 EDT 2015

It’s interesting to note that Arthur C. Clark, who wrote his Blue Planet Trilogy long before 2001: A Space Odyssey, during an interview late in his life referred to his beloved coral reefs of Sri Lanka as “coral cemeteries.”

Alex Brylske

> On Sep 8, 2015, at 1:25 PM, Rob Hilliard, imco <rhilliard at imco.com.au> wrote:
> Doug, Vassil, Joseph
> For fairly accurate yet unclunky, catchy terms to describe new things 
> that accumulate on "unliving coral reefs", how about
> 'Sponge gardens adorn coral graveyards'
> 'Weed infested coral graveyards'
> 'Mud laden coral graveyards'
> ?
> Whoever it was who first coined the term 'coral graveyard', it provided 
> the perfect answer to the eerie and depressing feelings one gets when 
> swimming over a bleached out, unrecovered reef, often replete with 
> crumbling tombstones, partly-exposed skeletons, dismantled rubble 
> memorials and various ghostly grey apparitions.
> Rob
> _________________________
> __________________
> Robert Hilliard PhD Pg.Dip (EMS)
> InterMarine Consulting Pty Ltd
> Western Australia6070
> Postal:PO Box 42, Mount Lawley, WA 6929
> Mob:+61 427 855 485
> *rhilliard at imco.com.au <mailto:rhilliard at imco.com.au>*
> **
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> On 08-Sep-15 6:07 PM, coral-list-request at coral.aoml.noaa.gov wrote:
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>> Today's Topics:
>>    1. Re: Fwd: Giant barrel sponges taking over Florida's	reefs!
>>       (Douglas Fenner)
>>    2. Student discount now available on coral identification
>>       workshops in UK and Germany Oct 2015. (Russell Kelley)
>>    3. Robot finds and kills crown-of-thorns starfish (Douglas Fenner)
>>    4. Research Fellowship opportunity ARC Centre of Excellence for
>>       Coral Reef Studies (Lappin, Jennifer)
>>    5. Hacking the Ocean (Ove Hoegh-Guldberg)
>>    6. Mass spawning in Acropora palmata in Puerto Rico (Hernandez Edwin)
>>    7. Reef restoration funding sources (Melanie Webster)
>>    8. Applications open for SCB Marine Small Grants Program
>>       (Deadline - Oct 1st) (SCBMarine Communications)
>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>> Message: 1
>> Date: Fri, 4 Sep 2015 09:46:12 -1100
>> From: Douglas Fenner <douglasfennertassi at gmail.com>
>> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Fwd: Giant barrel sponges taking over
>> 	Florida's	reefs!
>> To: Vassil Zlatarski <vzlatarski at gmail.com>
>> Cc: Coral-List Subscribers <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
>> Message-ID:
>> 	<CAOEmEkFvxomdvmDiv5H+wRNg6cKTFQ-1jG+wk2DEfbXzxYnGtg at mail.gmail.com>
>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8
>> Vassil,
>>     Good point.  The geological reef structure was built by primarily by
>> corals, or at least the corals are important as baffling to hold it
>> together.  Algae often are very important contributors and can contribute
>> more calcium than corals.  They are coral reefs in the same sense as a
>> similar structure lifted 20 feet out of the water 100,000 years ago is a
>> coral reef.  But an uplifted reef above the water does not have a living
>> coral reef ecosystem on the surface.  The same is true of reefs that are
>> now dominated by algae, whether the algae is macroalgae (by which I mean
>> frondose or fleshy algae) or turf (by which I mean filamentous algae) or
>> coralline algae or mixtures or soft corals or other things.
>>      Sometimes people talk or write about how reefs may die in coming
>> decades.  The geological structures won't die, though they have many living
>> things in holes in the structure, I would think.  I don't think the
>> geological structures are going to disappear in a few decades, either.  I
>> presume that reefs in Florida that are now sponge-dominated instead of
>> being coral-dominated are not accumulating more calcium deposits, likely
>> they are loosing more than gaining, bioerosion likely is greater than
>> calcification (unless there are algae calcifying faster than the
>> bioerosion).  But I'm not as worried about the geological structure as the
>> ecosystem, in the relatively short term (decades).
>>       I have sympathy for Mike Risk's view of the need for something
>> besides just ecologists, studying reefs.  I tend to think that with the
>> vast expansion of knowledge, individuals have to specialize.  I read
>> somewhere that about 1800 papers on coral reefs are being published each
>> year now and the rate is increasing fast.  No one can keep up with all of
>> it, and time spent outside of your specialty means less time to gain the
>> knowledge to be a competitive expert in your specialty.  So trying to be a
>> generalist is pretty self-defeating.  The answer is to have teams of people
>> with different specialties, because as Mike rightly points out, coral reefs
>> are very complex structures with many different things that require
>> different specialists to study, and many reef aspects need people in
>> several different specialists to study.  We already need statisticians on
>> our teams.  I agree ecologists probably need to work with geologists in
>> their teams more often.  I think ecologists need to consult with
>> taxonomists about identifications of their favorite organisms more often,
>> and geneticists need taxonomists on their teams.
>>       But I also think that the coral reef crisis is an ecological crisis,
>> not really a geological crisis.  Oh, it will be in a few thousand years if
>> we keep this up.  But we are loosing coral reef ecosystems even if we
>> aren't loosing geological structures yet.  Both provide benefits for
>> humans.  But the scientific community is pretty nimble at shifting towards
>> the exciting parts of science, and a lot of people see the coral reef
>> crisis as important and so makes for exciting science.  Easier to get
>> funding on things important to society, so some of us shift to work on
>> those things.  Not a bad thing.
>>       But I think you're right, Vassil, to be accurate, in some places,
>> what was a coral reef ecosystem is now a sponge-algal ecosystem on top of a
>> dead coral reef.  Or something like that, I'm not sure what the best name
>> is.  Likely people will continue to call them "coral reefs" because that is
>> a catchy name that we are all familiar with.  There is one on the south
>> side of Molokai Island in Hawaii which had a wide reef flat, a reef made of
>> calcium carbonate.  The geological structure of carbonate is still there,
>> but the reef flat is almost completely covered with mud that has eroded off
>> of agricultural fields on land.  A few tiny corals poke up through the
>> mud.  I saw similar along the east side of Lanai Island in Hawaii a couple
>> decades ago.  What should we call that?  Certainly that reef flat does not
>> have a coral reef ecosystem.  Mud ecosystem on top of a dead coral reef is
>> more like it.
>>     In truth, many of the ecosystems we call coral reef ecosystems are not
>> actually dominated by corals.  Corals are an important component, but not
>> dominant.  True even on many reefs with very little human influence.  Of
>> course humans have caused massive losses of corals on many or most of the
>> world's reefs.  Of course that's bad.
>>     By the way, I LIKE sponges!  Caribbean sponges are large, colorful, and
>> their biology is very different and interesting.  Where I'm at in the
>> Pacific, sponges are small, uncommon, and cryptic.  Nothing like the
>> glorious sponges of the Caribbean.  They are not completely incompatible
>> with corals.  Cozumel used to have good coral on top of the reefs, and
>> fabulous sponge communities on overhangs.  Spectacular.  Wonderful part of
>> the ecosystem.
>>      Cheers,  Doug
>> On Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 12:19 AM, Vassil Zlatarski <vzlatarski at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> Well, Joseph, in such case the usage of ?coral reefs? should be precised,
>>> for example, "coral-limestone reefs" or ?dead-coral reefs? or
>>> ?not-living-coral reefs? or in other appropriate way.
>>> Best,
>>> Vassil
>>> Vassil Zlatarski
>>> D.Sc. (Biology), Ph.D. (Geology)
>>> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
>>> From: Pawlik, Joseph <pawlikj at uncw.edu>
>>> Date: Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 5:31 AM
>>> Subject: RE: [Coral-List] Giant barrel sponges taking over Florida's reefs!
>>> To: Vassil Zlatarski <vzlatarski at gmail.com>
>>> Agreed, Vassil,
>>> But the reef was built by coral (it's limestone) -- they just aren't
>>> building it anymore!
>>> **************************************************************
>>> Joseph R. Pawlik, Professor
>>> Department of Biology and Marine Biology
>>> UNCW Center for Marine Science
>>> 5600 Marvin K Moss Lane
>>> Wilmington, NC  28409   USA
>>> pawlikj at uncw.edu; Office:(910)962-2377; Cell:(910)232-3579
>>> Website: http://people.uncw.edu/pawlikj/index.html<
>>> https://mail.uncw.edu/owa/UrlBlockedError.aspx>
>>> PDFs: http://people.uncw.edu/pawlikj/pubs2.html<
>>> https://mail.uncw.edu/owa/UrlBlockedError.aspx>
>>> **************************************************************
>>> ________________________________
>>> From: Vassil Zlatarski [vzlatarski at gmail.com]
>>> Sent: Wednesday, September 02, 2015 4:25 AM
>>> To: Coral-List Subscribers; Pawlik, Joseph
>>> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Giant barrel sponges taking over Florida's reefs!
>>> Dear Coral-Listers,
>>> Prof. Pawlik offered interesting paper ?Population dynamics of giant barrel
>>> sponges on Florida coral reefs? and video adding to the growing evidence
>>> that reef-building corals are declining and sponges are becoming the
>>> dominant inhabitants of modern Caribbean benthic communities.  For the
>>> fortunate researchers of coral reefs 4-5 decades ago is strange the usage
>>> of ?coral reefs? for the documented now-existing situation.  Is it not in
>>> reality a case of ?sponge gardens??
>>> Cheers,
>>> Vassil
>>> Vassil N. Zlatarski
>>> D.Sc. (Biology), Ph.D. (Geology)
>>> On Tue, Sep 1, 2015 at 10:45 AM, Pawlik, Joseph <pawlikj at uncw.edu<mailto:
>>> pawlikj at uncw.edu>> wrote:
>>> Greetings, Colleagues,
>>> In a 12-year study just published in the Journal of Experimental Marine
>>> Biology and Ecology, we report that populations of giant barrel sponges
>>> have increased by 122% since 2000 on Conch Reef, off the coast of Key
>>> Largo, Florida. This adds to the growing evidence that sponges are becoming
>>> the dominant inhabitants of modern Caribbean reefs.  The article can be
>>> downloaded for free:
>>> http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1RcjD51aUK0hE
>>> Giant barrel sponges (Xestospongia muta) are found throughout the
>>> Caribbean, and commonly grow to the size of an oil drum or larger. Called
>>> the "redwoods of the reef," these sponges can live to be hundreds, even
>>> thousands of years old, based on earlier growth studies conducted by the
>>> same first author, Dr. Steven McMurray.
>>> A video tour of the plots on Conch Reef can be seen here:
>>> https://youtu.be/qdjhm7ojGJk
>>> You can see how large these sponges get in this video from the Bahamas:
>>> https://youtu.be/8WaWVuGE-LM
>>> Not only are the numbers of giant barrel sponges increasing, so is their
>>> volume, with a 39% increase since 2000. On average, each square meter of
>>> Conch Reef now has about 2 liters of barrel sponge tissue on its surface,
>>> more than any other organism on the reef.  And the giant barrel sponge is
>>> only one of many species of sponges that populate Caribbean coral reefs.
>>> Much of the increase in the numbers of giant barrel sponges was due to
>>> recruitment - the successful establishment of baby sponges. On some plots,
>>> the increase in the smallest-sized barrel sponges was over 600% for the
>>> period 2000-2012. And while the survival of larger barrel sponges was
>>> stable for the first half of this period, it increased during the second
>>> half, perhaps because of the absence of hurricanes over that time period.
>>> When hurricanes pass over reefs, large sponges can be damaged and
>>> dislodged, often resulting in mortality.
>>> Regards,
>>> **************************************************************
>>> Joseph R. Pawlik, Professor,
>>> Dept. of Biology and Marine Biology
>>> UNCW Center for Marine Science
>>> 5600 Marvin K Moss Lane
>>> Wilmington, NC  28409
>>> Office:(910)962-2377<tel:%28910%29962-2377>; Cell:(910)232-3579
>>> <tel:%28910%29232-3579>
>>> Website: http://people.uncw.edu/pawlikj/index.html
>>> PDFs: http://people.uncw.edu/pawlikj/pubs2.html
>>> Video Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/skndiver011
>>> **************************************************************
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