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From NPR to The Today Show, Carpenter Research Captures Media's Attention Too

The NBC Today Show, The Independent in London, National Geographic and lots of other media have been ringing up Old Dominion University marine biologist Kent Carpenter to ask about a cautionary coral reef study released Thursday by him and nearly 40 other scientists.

National Public Radio also arranged for him to be a guest on Science Friday with Ira Flatow.  (For more information on the Science Friday program go to:  http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/200807114).

Carpenter, who is lead author of the coral reef study published on the Science Express Web site, coordinates the Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) headquartered on the ODU campus. The GMSA worked with leading coral experts in producing this first-ever comprehensive global assessment to determine the conservation status of coral reefs, and the findings are "disconcerting," according to Carpenter.

The bottom line: One-third of the world's coral reefs are threatened by climate change and environmental degradation, and the impact of these reefs disappearing could be devastating. "When corals die off, so do the other plants and animals that depend on coral reefs for food and shelter, and this can lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems," Carpenter said.

Two organizations, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Conservation International (CI), run the GMSA. The IUCN also maintains the Red List of Threatened Species, to which this new coral species assessment will be added.

Coral reefs in shallow tropical and subtropical seas have built up over millions of years and are home to more than a quarter of marine species. In fact, the reefs are the most biologically diverse of marine ecosystems.

But corals have been shown to be highly sensitive to changes in their environment. The study points to localized stresses such as those that result from destructive fishing, sediment runoff and pollution. The warning mounts, however, when the scientists turn to the fallout from climate change, which can cause rising water temperatures, more intense solar radiation and, potentially, ocean acidification. Coral bleaching and disease brought on by these conditions often brings mass coral mortality, the report says.

Co-authors of the study along with Carpenter come from two dozen institutions and organizations in the United States and 10 other countries. Four co-authors are associated with ODU and GMSA: Suzanne R. Livingstone, assistant research professor in biological sciences; Beth Polidoro, GMSA research associate; Jennifer Smith, GMSA research assistant; and Jonnell Sanciangco, ODU graduate student in biological sciences.

This article was posted on: July 10, 2008

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