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Lancaster University

Climate love

POOP FROM SEABIRDS IS RECIPE FOR CORAL RECOVERY.




On an island chain in the middle of the Indian Ocean lies an invaluable treasure: “white gold.” While it may not be a gem to proposition a prospective fiancée with, it does protect the ocean’s most biodiverse ecosystem: coral reefs.
A fellow researcher at Lancaster University in the UK: Casey Benkwitt says she could not be thrilled about it.
“It’s exciting to learn and show something new about the world that we didn’t know before,” Casey said “Seabird poop is really exceptional for the islands and the coral reefs around them.”
That’s right: poop. Corals absorb nutrients from this treasure trove of guano and it builds their resilience, according to Casey and her team’s recently published paper in Science Advances.
Casey and her field assistants rise with the sun, take a small plastic boat to their study site, and disappear into a tropical lagoon for the day to make observations and collect coral samples. Image courtesy of Casey
“Corals grow about twice as fast where there are seabirds present compared to areas where we’ve lost seabirds to invasive rats that eat and destroy their populations,” Casey says.
From 2018-2021, Casey and her team discovered that increased seabird-derived nutrients doubled coral growth rates and accelerated the recovery of corals in the Acropora genus after bleaching events to less than four years. Within a short period of time, they saw how seabird droppings helped coral reefs become more resilient.
Once a year, when the moon and sea temperatures align, they spawn en masse, sending millions of tiny eggs and sperm out into the ocean to connect, develop into larvae, and settle down onto the ocean floor to start a new colony.
After establishing itself, a colony can thrive for thousands of years, supporting more than 25% of Earth’s marine life. But our warming world puts all of this at risk.
“When oceans get too hot, corals undergo what’s called bleaching, and if it stays too hot for too long, the corals can end up dying, which then affects the fish and everything else that lives on the reef and depends on the corals,” Casey says.
In 2018, an Australian research team shared it findings that the average time between coral reef bleaching events had dropped from 27 years in the 1980s to just 5.9 years in 2016 due to warmer oceans.
A 2020 report by the U.N. Environment Programme said that unless nations take significant action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, climate change will bleach all of the world’s coral reefs by the end of the century.
Emily Darling, a coral reef scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), recently told Monga bay that while “nature is incredibly resilient, we need to get our act together now if we want to have coral reefs, healthy, functioning oceans, as well as a functioning planet for all of us to live on.”
Casey has witnessed bleaching events firsthand, and they concern her, but she says she wants the public to know that there’s hope.
“Most coral reef stories are depressing, and as an ecologist, a lot of the time, the patterns you see are not super clear,” Casey says. “But the nutrients from seabird poop can help coral reefs recover after these big die-offs and grow a lot faster. With coral growth, it’s crazy. Year after year, we are snorkeling underwater and seeing such strong results. It’s really encouraging.
Rat-free is key
Scientists like Casey are just beginning to understand how natural seabird-derived nutrients aid reef recovery following marine heat waves.
Birds like sooty terns (Onychoprion fuscatus), lesser noddies (Anous tenuirostris), red-footed boobies (Sula sula) and wedge-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus) fly out to the open ocean to eat fish and squid. When they return to roost on islands and poop, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus leech into the water, fertilizing the land, water and coral reefs.
When seabirds are abundant nearby, “coral take their nutrients up, grow faster, and this leads to faster recovery times after big bleaching and marine heat waves caused by climate change,” Casey says.
Still, for many reefs, it’s a location lottery.
After a squall one evening, dozens of disoriented red-footed boobies (Sula) spent the night on and pooped all over the Lancaster University researcher’s boats and dive gear.

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  • We Don't Have Time

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    Dear Chris Ndungu Your climate love has received over 50 agrees! We have reached out to Lancaster University by email and requested a response. I will keep you updated on any progress! To reach more people and increase the chance of a response, click the Share button above to share the review on your social accounts. For every new member that joins We Don't Have Time from your network, we will plant a tree and attribute it to you! /Adam, We Don't Have Time

    1
    • George Kariuki

      6 w

      This is a game-changer in the fight against climate change and its impact on our oceans. Protecting seabirds is crucial for healthy reefs, so let's all do our part to #SaveTheSeabirds and #ProtectOurOceans! We can all be a part of the solution!

      • walter lungayi

        6 w

        Wooow!! This is so fascinating.

        1
        • Esther Wanjiku

          7 w

          A very informative and helpful piece

          2
          • Elizabeth Gathigia

            7 w

            Very informative, every day is a learning day and a glad I have learnt something about seabird poop that I didn't know

            2
            • Gorffly mokua

              7 w

              It's fascinating to read about how seabird poop can have a positive impact on coral recovery and the preservation of marine ecosystems.👏👏

              6
              • Rukia Ahmed Abdi

                7 w

                @gorffly_mokua such information is so important moreso at this time. I wish we got it earlier

                5
                • Felix mokaya

                  7 w

                  @gorffly_mokua Agree ,it is such an important information which will help a lot especially to those who did not know .

                  2
                • zelda ninga

                  7 w

                  Thanks for sharing this is very informative. I guess all bird's poop has great use in different areas.

                  7
                  • Gorffly mokua

                    7 w

                    @zelda_ninga_442 💚💚

                    4
                    • Rukia Ahmed Abdi

                      7 w

                      @zelda_ninga_442 sure. It's informative more at this time of fighting for survival of our mother planet.

                      3
                    • Jane Wangui

                      7 w

                      This is quite encouraging..in as much as we want to save our habitats...marine ecosystems are equally important as everything that is present on earth is connected at one point.

                      11
                      • Gorffly mokua

                        7 w

                        @jane_wangui Completely agree! It's great to see efforts being made to protect and preserve marine ecosystems💚💚

                        4
                        • Rukia Ahmed Abdi

                          7 w

                          @jane_wangui All ecosystem are interdependent. We must safe all without discrimination

                          3
                        • Rukia Ahmed Abdi

                          7 w

                          This is amazing. I never had an idea that seabird poop is a recipe of coral recovery.

                          5
                          • Felix mokaya

                            7 w

                            This is very good news .Have learned something i never knew that seabird poop is a recipe for coral recovery amid climate-driven bleaching ,thanks to Lancaster university

                            12
                            • Gorffly mokua

                              7 w

                              @felix_mokaya Well, learning never stops! 😎

                              2
                              • Rukia Ahmed Abdi

                                7 w

                                @felix_mokaya we learn as long as we're a life and of sound mind. Each day is a new learning experience.

                                2
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