The beauty and diversity of marine life in and among coral reefs have always held a special attraction for ocean lovers. Nestled among the strangely shaped coral are rainbow-colored parrot fish, odd-looking lionfish, as well as other marine animals such as sea turtles. Because coral reefs have the greatest species diversity of any living system on Earth, they often are called the “tropical rainforests of the ocean.”
“Coral reefs are extremely important ecosystems,” says Mark Warner, assistant professor of marine biology-biochemistry at the University of Delaware. “They support local fisheries and economies, they contain valuable chemical compounds that may lead the way in the development of new medicines, and they also protect coastlines from damaging storms. However, despite their importance, the world’s coral reefs are being damaged at an alarming rate.”
On Wednesday, November 20, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Warner will present “Coral Reefs: Trouble in Paradise?” The lecture, which includes lunch, will kick off the fifth annual Wilmington Lunch and Lecture Series sponsored by the University of Delaware Graduate College of Marine Studies and the Sea Grant College Program.
In his presentation, Warner will highlight many unusual and little-known facts about coral reefs. For example, coral reefs are actually composed of living and growing marine organisms called “polyps.” These polyps can grow individually or as a system of interconnected polyps that share the same stomach.
“The bulk of the coral reef is composed of the calcified skeletons of these polyps,” says Warner. “However, the surface of the reef is covered with a thin veneer of living polyps, which are essentially only two cell layers thick. The polyps produce calcium carbonate or limestone, which is left behind as the polyp grows, building the structure of the reef.”
Warner will also discuss some of the major threats facing coral reefs today. These include over-fishing and destructive fishing practices such as the use of cyanide to capture rare fish for aquariums and dynamiting reefs to capture fish. Coastal development has caused increased sedimentation and pollution in the water, which blocks the sunlight that reefs need to grow. In addition, thousands of pounds of live coral are mined for construction purposes every year.
“There is a lot of gloom and doom associated with coral reefs these days,” says Warner. “However, coral reefs, if treated properly, are very naturally resilient and have the ability to recover from stress. There are even some reefs, once written off as dead, that are showing signs of recovery. A key thing to understand is that the majority of coral reefs are found near developing countries that do not have the money or resources to solve the problems that are threatening coral reefs.”
Warner earned his doctorate in ecology and a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Georgia, where he also completed a postdoctoral fellowship prior to joining CMS in September 2001.
The lecture includes lunch at the award-winning Hotel du Pont. To reserve your seat, at $15 per person, call (302) 831-8062. Or e-mail your reservations to MarineCom@udel.edu.