Can Underwater Parks Protect Coral? With global threats like ocean warming and acidification, it's a tough time to be a coral. Marine ecologists John Bruno and Elizabeth Selig analyzed over 8,000 coral surveys from all over the world to see if local management through Marine Protected Areas had any positive effect on coral.
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Can Underwater Parks Protect Coral?

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Can Underwater Parks Protect Coral?

Can Underwater Parks Protect Coral?

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JOE PALCA, host:

And to continue in the ocean vein, we're joined by Flora Lichtman, the video producer for SCIENCE FRIDAY, with the Video Pick of the Week. Flora, what you got?

FLORA LICHTMAN: This week, yup, more ocean news. And it's sort of a good news story, which I think seems rare for ocean stories. You know, the back story here is that coral, obviously, are facing a lot of threats today.

PALCA: Right. There's been this thing about coral bleaching, where the live creatures that make up the reefs are dying off. And so when they bleach the reefs look white - turn white, which looks nice but it's not good for the reef.

LICHTMAN: Yes, exactly. The perfect synopsis - and, you know, that's a climate change-related effect, sounds like. That's a global effect, right?

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: So there are these two researchers, John Bruno and Elizabeth Selig at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, that were wondering if the local management, these underwater parks called marine protected areas - or MPAs is the lingo...

PALCA: Oh, yeah. Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: the biz - whether those parks actually help protect coral when they are facing all of these, sort of, global threats, like acidification, like coral bleaching and, you know...

PALCA: Right. So these water parks, they're not setting up water filtration systems going in to that part of the ocean and cooling...

LICHTMAN: Right, you can't rope-off this process.

PALCA: Right, you kind of rope - so this is something that they just - but they do keep people from fishing in there and from going in with motor boats or what have you.

LICHTMAN: Dropping their anchors...

PALCA: Right.

LICHTMAN: ...doing dynamite fishing, all that kind of things. So can these parks help coral? And the answer is, after looking at 8,000 surveys from over the last four years from all over the world, is that yes they can, sort of, modestly help coral survive. And the way they did this was by looking at this group of surveys. And the way that you survey coral is by seeing how much coral is covering the ocean floor.

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: And it's called coral cover percentage.

PALCA: Yeah. Now, it's really great. There are some fantastic pictures from under the ocean. But actually, just mention something that's creating a fantastic image for me. Let's go out and do - with some dynamite and go fishing? What is that about?

LICHTMAN: I know. This is a kind of amazing story, I think. People are still, in some parts of the world, fishing by throwing sticks of dynamite into the water and then stunning the fish to collect them. And...

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: know, obviously, it's not the most eco-friendly...

PALCA: Sounds like a challenge, yeah. I know. That sounds like you have to be a real - a lot of skill involved in that. Three, two, one, boom, okay there's a fish. All right, well - all right, it's a great video. I've seen it. You should - where do we find it?

LICHTMAN: So we find it on the Web site at And one little plug, another reason to look at this video is to see one of coral's biggest threats which are these spiny starfish called crown of thorns. And there are -there's video footage of these invasive outbreaks of these starfish, which is that they're scary.

PALCA: You know what my favorite coral is, the okay-coral.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: I'm glad you got that in there, Joe.

PALCA: Yeah, I had to work it in. Okay, well, Flora Lichtman, thank you very much. Flora is the digital media producer for SCIENCE FRIDAY.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Joe.

PALCA: Okay.

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