Seeking Survivors: Saving Coral Reefs
We've reached our $16K target! But wait...
Climate change isn't going to stop at the end of the 2017 summer. This first year of "Seeking Survivors" - looking for corals that survive an extreme climate event - will be the first year of many, and will organically lead on to active, informed restoration projects within Sector Marino.
Let's raise an additional $2,500 - to cover the cost of the first 2018 field trip to resurvey and sample coral survivors.
Additional funds we raise will cover field trips for 2018, during which we will continue to monitor and sample the health of the corals in Sector Marino. We can also start Coral Gardening and Reef Restoration projects using the "Survivors" we find this year.
The more we invest into understanding Coral Reefs and their ailments, the better chance we have at saving them.
I've got the expertise, connections and passion, but I can't do it without your support - we'd love you to get involved.
Read on for more info about "Seeking Survivors" 2017
Coral reefs occupy 1% of the ocean, support 25% of marine life and over 500 million people. Yet corals are going extinct faster than mammals, frogs or birds.
Climate change is killing coral reefs - the sea is getting too hot and too acidic and we are now seeing unprecedented coral mortality globally.
BUT Wait! Some corals will survive - are surviving. I'm on a mission to find them and learn all I can about why. The future of coral reefs will depend on it and I want your help so that our kids and grandkids can enjoy them.
What do I need the money for?
I have secured grants (Rapid Response Facility at Fauna Flora International, National Geographic and IdeaWild) and private funding to cover field equipment and costs, and some lab equipment and sample processing.
For this project I need specific equipment that I will use to rejuvenate the lab in the Santa Rosa biological station, in the centre of Sector Santa Rosa, ACG - about 30 minutes drive from Cuajiniquil, the fisher village on the edge of Sector Marino. The lab equipment will be stored in a secure, air-conditioned lab and be available for this project, extensions of this project and others for years to come.
We've secured enough funds to cover basic lab equipment -THANK YOU!
A refrigerated centrifuge (~$3,500) Precision balance ($1,500) Homogenizer ($5,000) Ice machine (~$4,000) Lab chemicals, test tubes, micro-plates etc (as much as possible) Dedicated lab Laptop computer (PC) (~$400)
All money raised will be directed into this project and used wisely. More lab equipment to expand the analysis options will be bought and the project will be extended to more survey sites, more boat trips, and even to hire and train more paraecologists.
Climate change isn't going to stop at the end of the 2017 summer. This first year of "Seeking Survivors" will be the first year of many, and will organically lead on to active, informed restoration projects within Sector Marino.
The more we invest into understanding Coral Reefs and their ailments, the better chance we have at saving them.
To thank you doing your bit for marine conservation by supporting this project! You have the option of receiving various rewards depending on your level of support (see Rewards on the right hand side).
The Seeking Survivors 2017 logo will make-up the sticker and be on the back of t-shirts:
"Seeking Survivors" logo 2017 "Seeking Survivors" logo 2017
The panoramic photo print of Sector Marino.
This drone photo taken by Christian Schmidt as part of the Coral Mapping Project, has two of our 14 reef sites in view (Cocinera and Isla San Jose). This is also the island where the biological field station is situated.
Pledge BIG and get a unique tour of Sector Marino and ACG
The top reward is the trip of a lifetime to visit Sector Marino and Sector Santa Rosa, ACG, Costa Rica. Logistics will be all sorted for you, you just have to get to and from Liberia, Costa Rica on the 14th and 19th of August 2017. Direct flights are available from many USA cities. This trip coincides with Seeking Survivors field work, so you meet me and the team and get to see what we are doing first hand. (Can't do those dates? Get in touch).
14 August: You will be met at the airport and driven to Santa Rosa Biological station, and have the opportunity to see the laboratory I'm working in. You will stay overnight in rustic, dormitory-style accommodation in the ACG protected area (though hotel accommodation could be found).
15 August: You will have a hearty breakfast of local Costa Rican food (typically rice and beans) and then begin your journey to Sector Marino. You will drive to Cuajiniquil and then take a scenic 3hour boat ride to Isla San Jose Biological station, Islas Murcielago, Sector Marino. There will be an evening talk and dinner. The biological station is comfortable but basic, and you will be camping (equipment can be provided).
16 August: Excursions to turtle nesting beaches, snorkeling in coral reef areas including Seeking Survivors reef sites, with explanation from Dr Palmer and team, swimming, birding and island hiking.
17 August: Return from Isla San Jose, lunch and interpretation in Bahia Santa Elena, view local mariculture project, dinner in Cuajiniquil, return to Santa Rosa.
18 August: You will be given the natural history of tropical dry forest and Atlantic lowland rain forests, see on-site laboratories and rearing barns, international species research, and hear about role of molecular DNA analysis in biodiversity conservation.
19 August: Depart from Liberia airport or continue to explore and enjoy Costa Rica independently.
Pledge NOW and do your bit for marine conservation
Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund
GDFCF is the formal non-profit organisation for Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG), a 165,000 hectare national park in North West Costa Rica. GDFCF works closely with the Costa Rican government and local residents to ensure the wildlands within this national park remain protected effectively.
GDFCF's Mission is to promote the long-term survival or ecosystems and biodiversity of ACG through conservation, education, science-based management and biodiversity development.
Sector Marino appears in The Endless Summer, with iconic surf spots including Witches Rock, Ollie's point, and I'm Science Advisor to the 1000's of species that live there.
Jack O'Neill's proudest achievement was contributing to Marine Conservation. Make YOUR contribution to Marine Conservation here and NOW.
Some coral science
Climate change is warming the world's oceans and causing corals to bleach. Corals are animals that live with algae in their tissue. These microscopic, photosynthetic algae provide ~90% of the coral's food.
When corals are said to "bleach", the algae (zooxanthellae) have died or abandoned the coral tissue and therefore no longer feed the coral - it starves. Below is a bleached coral from May in Sector Marino.
As you read this, many of the species of coral in Sector Marino are bleaching from warming water.
Donate NOW to help save these corals!
My experience and position
I, Caroline Palmer, am a coral biologist and immunologist, and have studied corals and reefs around the globe for over a decade. Not content simply documenting dead coral reefs, I put my energy into understanding what would STOP them from dying. I did my PhD on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia, on coral immunity.
I'm now Science Advisor to ACG and Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund (GDFCF) and I split my time between the UK and Costa Rica - working year-round coordinating research, conservation, fundraising, communications and everything else my role entails.
ACG, offers a conserved wild ecosystem embedded in the friendly and green society of Costa Rica. It's a safe, secure and permanent hospital for my coral patients, and has an adjacent protected terrestrial wildland, which will support our marine conservation efforts.
How did I get to be Science Advisor to Sector Marino?
Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs and Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund (GDFCF), invited me. These two ecologists and conservation biologists have been, and continue to be, instrumental in the successful restoration of forests across ACG. They are President and co-Vice President of GDFCF, the NGO exclusively dedicated to helping ACG effectively conserve its wild terrestrial biodiversity.
Let's do it for Sector Marino.
It turns out that broad-minded biologists are pretty good at conserving the systems they have dedicated their lives to studying.
How are we setting a global example?
We are monitoring 14 reef sites in and around Sector Marino. Three weeks ago, we measured coral cover, species diversity, coral health, water temperature, pH and salinity and tagged and sampled over 200 corals of 10 species. We will do this all again in July and August as the bleaching - brought on by another El Niño year - continues and, hopefully, ends. Here is a video of some of our corals - let's hope these are "Survivors":
From the biopsies taken, I will measure the general health and immunity of the corals, and relate these results to environmental conditions, reef site and species. I will find out who lives, who dies and why.
This is important for building a picture of coral health and its decay across the sites and through time. This is vital for understanding the reef system and then starting to conserve and restore it, based on the survivors and their unique biology.
Survivors are likely to be a result of several possibilities. Just as a person may survive a road incident by wearing a seatbelt (taking preventative measures), because they are tough individuals (naturally fit and healthy - gene based) or by fortuitously being in the right place at the right time (circumstance-based), some corals will survive climate change. By understanding the key factors behind survivorship, we learn to build safer cars, better roads and enforce speed limits - but we'll be doing it underwater.
ACG government and foundation grant support will enable this to happen, and in turn, that will be visible to the world. YOU can be part of it.
Coral gardening and reef restoration with the known "Survivors" is a natural and exciting extension of this project.
The key output will be information about the health of Sector Marino's corals and which are the Survivors. This will be translated into a report detailing HOW we can use this information to conserve the corals there. The report will be ready, and disseminated to you, in October 2017.
This report will subsequently be made publicly available through the ACG website (www.acguanacaste.ac.cr).
In addition, Seeking Survivors will generate photos and videos, which will be sent to you and published on the ACG website and associated social media. In doing so, and with short updates, we will document the progress of the project throughout, where possible from our remote location.
A key output will also be Scientific publications, with much longer timescales required. We anticipate between 2 and 5 publications in peer-reviewed journals to result from this project in the next 2 years.
Señora Yelba Vega - Paraecologist
Yelba is a resident of Cuajiniquil, a small fishing village and neighbour of Sector Marino. Yelba is employed by GDFCF as a paraecologist and marine biodiversity inventorier. She, a fisher's wife, with minimal education and no previous relevant employment, is now becoming a field biologist, and she is amazing at it.
Gilberth Ampie - paraecologist
Gilberth is a Cuajiniquil resident and used to earn a living by fishing the reefs and waters in and around Sector Marino. Now he is employed as a paraecologist and marine biodiversity inventorier and is helping to conserve Sector Marino. He is amazing in the water, a reliable and helpful dive buddy and a problem solver.
Both paraecologists are supported by GDFCF with grants from the Wege Foundation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and administration and mentoring support from ACG. In return for the hard work they are giving me, I am extending their field experience and training.
Christian Schmidt - volunteer, photographer, drone pilot (coral mapping project)
Christian, a resident of San Jose, Costa Rica and an excellent sailor, is passionate about the ocean and has enthusiastically dedicated his time, resources and expertise to the associated Coral Mapping Project. He not only took amazing drone footage that will help monitor the extent and health of reef systems, but also helped with project logistics and sample processing. Christian, as part of the Coral Mapping Project, is responsible for most of the video footage and photos seen here, and put together the project video at the top of this page.
Minor Lara - Captain, owner of Dive Centre Cuajiniquil
Minor, with his vast local knowledge and positive, laid-back attitude, is an essential component of this project. A resident of Cuajiniquil, Minor runs a successful dive operations business and knows our reef sites inside out. He knows the history of the reefs and he can take us there safely, quickly and competently. Furthermore, he and his wife Ivannia, welcome us into their home to process coral samples after returning from the islands.
Tatiana Villalobos - Masters student, University of Costa Rica.
Tatiana is a brilliant field biologist, with coral biology knowledge and experience. She was a huge help during the May trip and will be joining us for July. I will be training her in lab techniques using the equipment funded by your support.
Mike Connelly, a student at the University of Miami also joined us for our May 2017 field trip.
Área de Conservacíon Guanacaste Staff
This project is only possible because of the support and hard work of ACG. Only by working together with the Costa Rican government (ACG) and other supporters, can we really conserve Sector Marino, and especially highlight possible solutions to global problems, such as the details of how and why are coral reefs dying, what prescriptive care can we develop for them, and what should be their preventative medicine.
Risks and challenges
Working in a remote marine environment comes with its risks and challenges, but working with a dedicated, experienced and local team minimises many of them. I am used to working on remote island field stations, and having to plan for all eventualities. I have never had a failed field trip.
I have had unfavourable weather, which we just have to wait-out.
With tagged corals and deployed data loggers, there is the risk that finding them will be very challenging. However, we have already taken many steps to make this easier. We have drone footage of each reef site and coordinates of the data loggers as well as detailed site maps and photographs of all tagged corals.
Still, some tags, corals and loggers may disappear. We will have to suffer these losses, but be assured that we have enough reef sites and replicates to ensure robust data despite them.
Lab work will likely be challenging at times. The lab, in Santa Rosa field station, is remote and relatively frequently suffers from power cuts, however there are back-ups in place to ensure samples and equipment are protected. I will be staying in Santa Rosa biological field station for the summer.
If the field work or lab work takes longer than anticipated and can't be done in the summer time frame (between late July and late August), then the project would be delayed for 6-8months until I am next able to get out to Costa Rica. But, it is very unlikely that I will come away with no lab results - I will have some if not all data.
However, if available and especially with ample financial support, I would be able to train parataxonomists and paraecologists in simple lab work and photograph analysis. This will speed things along AND further involve the local community in science and conservation.
What if the corals don't bleach this summer? If they don't bleach that would be great for the corals. In terms of the data collected and how it can be used, we would simply have a more solid idea of the background levels of coral health at different reef sites. This is extremely valuable data and would give us a great platform from which to study the next bleaching event.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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