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Lessons From Eritrea

Can We Save Our Coral Reefs?

by THOMAS MOUNTAIN

The worlds coral reefs, vital to much of our ocean’s ecology, are under double threat from rising water temperatures and carbon dioxide absorption acidifying the oceans waters. Both threats are very real and are on the front lines of what scientists have been calling a threat to mankind’s survival.

Yet there are potential solutions to both of these problems, one being the cultivation of hot water tolerant corals and the other the propagation of algae (and possibly even plankton) that can tolerate high acid levels in sea water (algae, as a part of the photosynthesis process, “eat” carbon dioxide).

For the first threat, rising water temperatures, there are corals here in the Red Sea were I live that not only survive but in many cases thrive in hot waters. I have measured water temperatures of up to 95f where corals suffer little or no damage from “bleaching”. The water temperature here rarely drops  below levels that kill reefs in the rest of the world.

What is needed is to cultivate our hot water resistant corals, sort of like ocean coral nurseries, and to use these corals to “re-forrest” reefs world wide. Of course, this needs to be started immediately on a massive scale, but this is a political, not technological problem for growing coral has already started and is not very complicated or difficult.

The second problem, carbon dioxide absorption acidifying the oceans and damaging the ability of corals and shellfish to use calcium carbonate to make their shells is more complicated.

Algae and plankton “eat” carbon dioxide, and some scientists suspect rising levels of carbon dioxide in ocean waters may help explain some of the massive, and deadly, algae blooms that have broken out around the planet. The question is, if we propagate algae doesn’t this pose a threat to oxygen levels in the oceans and raise the stress levels the oceans are already facing?

The answer to this problem is that filter feeders, both fish and shellfish, feed on algae and plankton. Mullet and milk fish, both very tasty and healthy, live exclusively on algae and plankton. Oysters, scallops, clams, mussels and other shellfish also depend on algae to survive. We have varieties of pearl oysters (that once produced the famous red sea pearls) that are easily propagated year round, thrive in hot water, suck up large quantities of algae and can be harvested for human consumption in as little as three months. Pearl oysters (as are all oysters) are a particularly healthy food, high in protein, low in fat and if processed correctly very tasty.

Again, growing oysters, and other shell fish, is not very complicated, basically requiring floating cages or ropes to anchor on and need very little maintenance. The main problem is storms damaging the infrastructure, but there are undoubtedly solutions to this challenge. The same can be said for growing fish filter feeders. Doing this in the worlds oceans will certainly take some work, but what choice do we have?

Rising ocean water temperatures are not exclusively bad news. Marine life in general sees its metabolic rate increase as water temperatures increase.

Research by an Eritrean scientist presently completing his Ph.D. in China has demonstrated that fish metabolism peaks in water temperature of 30c. In other words, hot water means fish and other sea life grow faster and can help provide sustenance for the worlds populations being threatened by the increasing droughts caused by global warming.

Of course higher levels of carbon dioxide also increase plant growth rates (nutrition, water, sunlight and…carbon dioxide are all equally essential for photosynthesis). Just pick up any marijuana publication and read the ads to see claims of by just how much.

Plants thrive in levels of carbon dioxide up to 2000ppm, with claims being made that such levels increase plant metabolism but up to 50%. Of course, humans cant tolerate such levels, with even 10 minutes at 1000ppm leaving one with a headache and even nausea.

As I said earlier, solutions to raising water temperatures and acidification levels in our oceans are political, not technological. Here in Eritrea on the shores of the Red Sea we have already begun to organize solutions to these problems as well as beginning to do the basic research needed to prove our claims to the worlds scientists.

In one sense, Eritrea is fortunate for we have conditions making our coastal waters the best in the world for ocean based aquaculture. To start with we have very warm, even hot water along with  high salinity levels (the Red Sea, due to low fresh water input and high evaporation rates has the highest salinity level in the world with research showing high salinity levels increasing marine metabolism) providing an excellent basis for marine production.

The Red Sea is the worlds calmest body of water, with no hurricanes or typhoons and what storms that do occur are very mild in comparison. The Eritrean coast includes some 350 islands that provide ideal, “lagoon” conditions for aquaculture. The currents are year round and sufficient to provide the circulation needed to bring nutrients to feed marine life. Add to this the 5 rivers running off the highlands during the rainy season feeding the coast with high levels of silt that provide the nutrition our algae and  plankton thrive on and Eritrea has some 5,000 square kilometers of the best aquaculture grounds in the world.

Even if the rest of the world continues to sit by and await climate change induced disaster, we here in Eritrea have started to do what it will take to protect our people from the coming challenges.

The questions is, will the political, and economic isolation being imposed on us by the USA and its vassals in the west be allowed to stifle our contributions to solving these problems for the rest of the world?

Thomas C. Mountain is a life long activist, educator and cultural historian, living and writing from Eritrea since 2006. He can be reached at thomascmountain_at_yahoo_dot_com