Our Precious Reefs

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Our Precious Reefs

Joel Paschal and Marcus Eriksen departed Long Beach Aquarium in California for Honolulu, Hawaii on June 1, 2008. They arrived 87 days later. En route, they survived a sinking ship, dodged four hurricanes, and ran out of food.

It wasn’t so much that they declined the standard six-hour, airplane flight and chose a boat for their 2,600 mile journey. Every summer, dozens of sailors ply the Pacific Ocean for Hawaii. What really surprised those onlookers who had gathered at the Ala Wai Boat Harbor in late August to greet them was the duo’s choice of vessel. It wasn’t your traditional mono-hull sailboat or even a double-hull catamaran. It was a raft named JUNK and, appropriately, crafted from 15,000 plastic bottles, 20 sailboat masts, 5,000 plastic bags woven into rope and the remains of the fuselage of a Cessna 310.

One week before Joel and Marcus set sail, 40-year-old Roz Savage pushed away from the dock at the Presidio Yacht Club in San Francisco, destination Hawaii. Her transportation mode of choice: A rowboat.

It took Roz over 1 million oar strokes and 99 days, 8 hours and 55 minutes to cover the 2,324 miles in her 24-foot boat made of carbon fiber. She faced stiff winds at times and upwards of 25-foot waves. She survived the failure of two water makers while munching on dried fruit, veggies and energy bars and listening to 62 audio books.

So, what gives? Why in the world would anyone sail across the Pacific in a boat made of trash? Why would someone row alone from San Francisco to Honolulu? These days, it seems “because it’s there” is no longer enough. Joel, Marcus and Roz are not mere adrenaline junkies, although, admittedly, there must be some of that in their DNA. All three ocean-goers say they crossed the Pacific in so unlikely of ways for the same reason: To save our oceans.

Conservation down under.

Based on headline news around the country, one would think our world’s biggest concern is what’s going on above the water with things like greenhouse gases, rising air temperatures, and melting polar ice caps. But like all of nature, the air and the water are interconnected. What happens in one, affects the other as surely as night follows day.

The “save our seas” message isn’t one of just a few renegade individuals like Joel, Marcus and Roz.

According to The Nature Conservancy, “The increase in global carbon dioxide emissions is not just damaging the Earth’s climate, but is also threatening the very fabric of our oceans.”

Messages like this are making their way into headline news, especially in Hawaii where we are surrounded by water, and around the nation, as well, in states whose borders do not reach the sea.

The reason for the increased attention to what’s happening to our water is because we are all affected by the health of our oceans, whether we live in a coastal community or not.

It's all connected.

Pioneering undersea explorer and one-time chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Dr. Sylvia Earle spoke at the recent Hawaii Conservation Conference. She emphasized that every breath we take comes from the sea. In her book Sea Change, Earle writes, “Clouds of freshwater are lofted from the sea to the atmosphere as vapor and return there, via the land, as fog, rain, sleet, and snow.”

The ocean is important, because without it, we would not exist. There would be no life. As Earle says, “There’s plenty of water in the universe without life, but nowhere is there life without water.” And at 97% of the Earth’s water, the ocean is the life-support system for all creatures on our planet.

That’s a pretty clear reason why we should care about and for our seas.

Out of balance.

So, right now, we should care about something called “ocean acidification.” As carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, approximately one-third is absorbed by the ocean. The mixture of CO2 with saltwater forms carbonic acid, which lowers the pH of the oceans. More greenhouse gases, more acidity. More acidity, big trouble.

In July 2008, scientists at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Florida declared acidification to be the largest and most significant threat facing oceans today. Unchecked, it can lead to the destruction of coral reefs.

Reefs serve many roles in our everyday lives.

We in Hawaii like our coral reefs. They form natural breakwaters, buffering our land from the big waves for which Hawaii is famous. They provide underwater marine parks for snorkeling and diving. They generate waves for surfing. They create the ingredients for our miles of sandy beaches. And, they offer food to eat.

Now, let’s take a look below the surface.

Earlier this summer, NOAA released a report that said almost half of the coral reef ecosystems in the United States territory are in poor or fair condition.

Although they cover only two-tenths of one percent of the ocean floor, many scientists refer to coral reefs as the “rainforests of the sea” because of their abundant biodiversity. It is reported that 25% of marine species need coral reefs to live and grow and that 40% of fish caught commercially use reefs to breed. And did you know that people consume more seafood than either beef or pork?

Global warming:  It does more than melt glaciers.

Remember what we said earlier about what happens above the water affects what happens in the water? Well, as air temperature rises, so, too, is the temperature of our oceans. As a result, some corals are rapidly declining to such an extent that for the first time ever, two corals have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Earlier this year, coral reef experts and managers from the United States, Mexico, France, and Bonaire designated 2008 as the International Year of the Reef with the specific purpose of drawing the world’s attention to and celebrating coral reefs. Since then, NOAA has joined the effort, as well as The World Bank, SeaQuest Marine, the Coral Reef Symposium, the US Department of State, the Ministry of the Environment in Japan and the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation.

You might find all this interesting, but, if you’re like us, you might still be asking, What exactly is coral? And what is a coral reef? Where is it? Can I see it? How are the reefs faring in Hawaii? What can I do to help?

OutriggerHawaii is suiting up—fins, goggles, and snorkel—to find out. We’ll journey around Hawaii exploring coral reefs, talking to the experts, learning about some fascinating plants and animals and, where we can, pitching in to protect our precious marine environment. At this point, there are no plans to cross the Pacific in a raft or rowboat, but you never know. Check back here regularly to see what new information and stories we’re posting. And spread the word: Save our seas.


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