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A tale of two atolls
Date:6/9/2010

Coral reefs kaleidoscopes of pink anemones and silver sharks are the planet's most colorful ecosystems and among its most endangered, say marine scientists.

As global warming raises ocean temperatures, many corals blanch and die, a phenomenon called "coral bleaching." And pumping large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere could make the ocean more acidic, further decimating corals and the fish that depend on them for food and shelter.

Millions of people inhabit coral reefs around the world, putting additional pressure on reef menageries. Establishing sustainable fisheries, even at remote islands and atolls, could significantly slow the decline of many reefs, say marine ecologists.

"We know that fishing can dramatically change the composition of a reef ecosystem," said Fiorenza Micheli, a professor of biology at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station. "By confronting overfishing immediately, we may increase the resilience of coral reefs to global warming and other threats."

To gain new insights on the ecology of reef fishing, Micheli and a team of Stanford researchers are taking advantage of an ongoing "natural experiment" at two isolated Pacific atolls Palmyra and Tabuaeran (or Fanning Island) located about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii. The project is funded by Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment.

Separated by just 250 miles of ocean, the two atolls are worlds apart in terms of fishing pressure. Palmyra, a protected U.S. wildlife refuge, is virtually uninhabited and bars fishing along its shores. But Tabuaeran, part of the island nation of Kiribati (pron. "kee-ree-bahs"), is home to about 2,500 people who depend on the reef for food and income.

With support from a Woods Institute Environmental Venture Projects grant, a team of marine ecologists, oceanographers and anthropologists has been working alongside residents of Tabuaeran to better understand their fishing techniques and p
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Contact: Mark Shwartz
mshwartz@stanford.edu
650-723-9296
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert

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