ISSN 1108-8931


Year 6 - Issue 62

Sponsored by: Zante Feast Holidays

Coral Reefs

Great Barrier Reef seen
from Space

In the old times there were little more than death traps for navigators. No less a seaman than Captain Cook, famously "discovered" the Great Barrier Reef by running aground on it in 1770. There were also good fishing spots for fishermen, and "fishing" spots for pirates !  In the mid 20th century humans treated one of them, Bikini Atoll, to a course of the most powerful weapons ever built. Recently, humanity has finally come to appreciate the true importance of reefs as pillars of the world's seas, and this culminated in the first International Year of the Reef in 1997. Artificial reefs are nowadays all the rage, as you will read in this month's Interview. Bikini Atoll has already seen it's first tourists and divers. Some now even consider, rather hyperbolically, the Great Barrier Reef, as the largest living being in the world.



What are they Coral reefs are masses of carbonate of lime, built-up from the seafloor by the accumulation of the skeletons of a profusion of animals and algae; eventually they rise to the surface of the water.

Where are they Reef-building corals grow best in shallow, sunlit water with normal salinity, between the low-water mark and a depth of 11 metres, and with an annual maximum temperature above 22° C but below 28° C. Such conditions exist in tropical surface waters, as long as there are no cold currents, river outflows, or too much rain.

Eating habits Reef-building Corals eat partly like plants, partly like animals. They rely on the photosynthetic products of zooxanthellae for the majority of their nutrients, however they also capture zooplankton for food, through adhesion and entrapment. Prey size depends on the size of the polyps making the coral. Most corals feed at night. This may be because night is when the zooplankton travel into the water column and become available for capture. Keeping the tentacles retracted during the day may also help corals avoid predation, protect themselves from UV light, and avoid shading their zooxanthellae.

Friends & Foes Coral reefs provide habitats for a large variety of organisms. These organisms rely on corals as a source of food and shelter, but there are also parasites. Sponges (Porifera), crustacaens, crabs and fish like the parrot fish, inhabit cavities in the reef for protection from predators. However sponges remove small chips of calcium carbonate from corals, causing bioerosion in corals.

Polychaetes such as Hermodice carunculata and Gastropods in the family Trochidae depend on corals for food. They feed on corals such as Porites and Agaricia. Decapod crustaceans such as shrimps and crabs depend on corals for shelter. Xantid crabs form cavities in the coral Acropora palmata. Fish also depend on corals for protection against predators. One such is the parrot fish (Scaridae). Echinoderms such as Acanthaster planci are coral predators. This crown-of-thorns starfish relies on corals for food.

There are many other species of fungi, sponges, sea worms, crustaceans and molluscs that bore into coral skeletons. Other organisms that inhabit the coral reefs include sea urchins, jellyfish, oysters, clams, turtles, and sea anemones.

Types and Structures There are three basic kinds of coral reefs, first classified by Charles Darwin: fringing reefs, barrier reefs and atolls. Fringing reefs are coral reefs that grow in shallow waters and border the coast closely or are separated from it by a narrow stretch of water. Fringing reefs consist of several zones that are characterised by their depth, the structure  Barrier reefs are reefs that are separated from land by a lagoon. These reefs grow parallel to the coast and are large and continuous. The third type of coral reefs are atolls. Atolls are annular reefs that develop at or near the surface of the sea when islands that are surrounded by reefs subside. Atolls separate a central lagoon and are circular or sub-circular. There are two types of atolls: deep sea atolls that rise from deep sea and those found on the continental shelf.

Uses & Threats Any swimmer who has accidentally stepped over a coral knows how easy it can break. Less visible is the damage caused by touching, but it is as harmful.

Corals and coral reefs are extremely sensitive. Slight changes in the reef environment may have detrimental effects on the health of entire coral colonies. These changes may be due to a variety of factors, but they generally fall within two categories: natural disturbances and anthropogenic disturbances. The latter are more serious, and include:

  • Sedimentation due to increase in freshwater runoff. Sediment from land-clearing areas, high levels of nutrients from agricultural areas or septic systems, as well as many pollutants such as petroleum products or insecticides leads to eutrophication. This decreases the amount of light reaching the coral, leading to bleaching, and sponge overgrowth which compounds the problem.

  • Hot water discharge from power plants

  • Overfishing, which allows uncontrolled competitive organisms such as algae to dominate the reef scape. Fishing by explosives and poison also destroys reefs.

  • Souvenir trade: Corals are still popular as decorations, although there is nothing appealing to a dead coral outside water.

  • Vessel-related damage: Corals inhabit some of the busiest passages for ships, as a result there are ship wrecks and oil spills. Boat anchors are also very damaging. Anti-fouling bottom paints also form toxic substances harmful to corals and coral spawn.

Natural threats include hurricanes / typhoons that break large corals apart and are accompanied with heavy rain which decreases water salinity. Another major threat especially in the Pacific is a large starfish, the crown-of-thorns, Acanthaster planci that feeds on coral living tissue.

Rising sea temperatures, usually attributed to Global warming, is an increasing threat for Coral reefs, such as the Great Barrier Reef. When the water temperature is constantly at 32 degrees Celsius, mass coral bleaching occurs.

Coral Diseases Coral bleaching is much talked-about but scientists have yet to explain it. It refers to the whitening of coral colonies due to the loss of symbiotic zooxanthellae from the tissues of polyps. This loss exposes the white calcium carbonate skeletons of the coral colony. The exact bleaching mechanism is still unknown.

Four coral conditions have been classified as diseases: white band disease (WBD), black band disease (BBD), bacterial infection, and shut down reaction. Anthropogenic stresses can increase a coral's susceptibility to these diseases.

Focus on Great Barrier Reef The 2000 km-long Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest - it can be seen from space - and best known coral reef. The reef is located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland in north-east Australia. Many cities along the Queensland coast offer boat trips to the reef on a daily basis, several continental islands have been turned into resorts while there are also live-aboard platforms for divers. A large part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Scientist believe that parts of the Great Barrier Reef are at the upper edge of their temperature tolerance, thus the coral bleaching events of 1998 and 2002. In recent years, run-off from agriculture, especially sugarcane fields, has had a significant impact. Increased silting and coral bleaching have killed large areas of the reef. Several popular areas of the reef have been severely damaged by Crown-of-thorn attacks in recent decades. The sheer number of visitors to the reef is itself a problem. Popular areas like Green Island have suffered considerable damage from tourists. On July 1, 2004 fishing will be banned from a third of the Great Barrier Reef as opposed to 4% before that date.

5 easy things to remember

1. Read about the reef you are about to enter.
2. Select points of entry and exit to avoid walking on corals.
3. Don't touch. Your slightest touch can damage corals while some can (and ought to) sting you.
4. Learn some swimming, so that you can stay horizontal when near or above the reef. Never stand on corals.
5. Don't buy kitsch souvenirs made from coral, you are just encouraging more destruction and bad taste !


Ecotourism in Bulgaria
by John Henderson Todd

Bulgaria rarely comes into our minds at all and, then, usually in the context of poisoned umbrellas or elderly Wombles. To say that it has the national objective of becoming the premier nature / eco-tourism destination in Europe over the next decade might seem a little ambitious if not downright delusional. But is it?

Bulgaria was the first country in Europe to introduce conservation legislation beginning in the mid 19th century with laws protecting raptors. During the communist era after WW2, the Bulgarians' strong sense of national identity helped them maintain most of their natural and cultural heritage intact. As a result, it now supports some of the richest biodiversity in Europe with over 400 species of birds and 90 of mammals including brown bear, wolf, jackal, wild boar and chamois. The diversity of flora within its natural forests is equally impressive.

If we add to this an agricultural sector that is primarily based on organic small farms and a well developed mix of mineral spa, ski and seaside resorts, they certainly have all the right components. Did I mention the weather?

So what did we do with them? Firstly, we defined ecotourism as having two characteristics:

  • it benefits the environment

  • it benefits the communities living in and around it.

The important point here is that we did not define what ecotourism is but rather what it does. This enabled us to avoid wasting time on differentiating between nature, outdoor activity, wildlife and ecotourism and keep the academics off our backs. We then divided the country into 12 eco-regions and asked all the relevant parties in each to jointly tell us what they considered their nature product to be. They duly did and all said much the same thing. We then asked them tell us what made them different from each other. The end result was a national audit of the product in regional packages which each region presented to the rest for comment and critique at a two day national conference. The benefits of this approach were:

  • Generation of national brand based on reality on the ground

  • Clearly differentiated regional product range

  • Local ownership of regional product and hence of national brand

This gives you a fine, warm feeling but doesn't bring in any tourists. We had already included "wish-list sessions" as part of the process, asking the regional groups to identify barriers to development and how to overcome them. We subjected these to a ruthless analysis out of which came an Action Plan designed to be difficult but feasible to implement over five years. This included about fifty specific actions. Critically, we specified, for each of these, who was responsible, the timescale and where the resources should come from. In parallel, I had already put together an EC fund to support product development on the ground.

So what? There were some elements of the process which could benefit other areas and have, in my view, been serious weaknesses in other countries including my own Scotland.

  • Combined bottom-up and top-down approaches to enable regions to control the development of the process but under expert guidance - recognised that communities are not necessarily very good at strategic marketing and development

  • Built up national product and strategy from regional components - recognised the need for local ownership

  • Differentiated regional products to generate a range of holiday choices within a common brand - recognised that the primary product is the nation but that this is made up of diverse regions

  • Redefined the strategy as a series of specific, detailed actions identifying resources, responsibilities and timescale - recognised that waffly statements of strategic objectives accomplish nothing

Above all, I was impressed by the Bulgarians' clear understanding that to develop an economically sustainable ecotourism industry, you have to adopt a genuinely ethical approach both to the rural environment and its human inhabitants. Whether they succeed or not, they certainly deserve to.

About the author: John Todd (Expert Member, UK) is a Senior Partner in Todd Associates International which specialises in rural and tourism development consultancy. He was Team Leader of the EC-funded Bulgarian Ecotourism Grant Programme and Senior Advisor to the USAID funded Bulgarian National Ecotourism Action Plan, both in 2003.


Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919): Eco Maverick, Father of "Ecology"

Ernst Haeckel, smiling

The term " Ecology" although composed of two ancient Greek words (oikos + logos), only goes back to 1866, when it was first coined as "okologie", by Ernst Haeckel, a very important and controversial German doctor, artist, university professor, philosopher and - of course - ecologist ! Haeckel was so annoying to many in the scientific establishment of his days, that they coined a term for him "the Gadfly of Jena". The other word he coined "missing-link" still creates heated debates.  Haeckel was perhaps even more important as a science populariser, he single-handedly did so with the Evolution theory in Germany, from university lectures to speeches to illiterate workers in rented halls and taverns. In these he used enormous backdrops showing embryos and skeletons, which allowed creationists to mock his presentations as "Darwinian passion plays". To prove his - then - radical theories, critics alleged, he would not hesitate in 'massaging' or inventing some data.

Haeckel grew up in Merseburg, where his father was a government official. He studied at Würzburg and at the University of Berlin, where he took his medical degree. For a time he practiced medicine, but he was keen on traveling, and thus found himself in Italy where he painted and even considered art as a career. When he read Charles Darwin's 1859 work, " On the Origin of Species" it was a revelation for him. He completed a dissertation in zoology in 1861 at Jena, and in just four years became professor of zoology. Jena, in East-Central Germany, twin-town of Weimar, being of course the city of German philosophy, home to Goethe, Schiller, Hegel, and also where Marx obtained his doctorate. Haeckel remained at Jena as a professor until his retirement in 1909.

Haeckel saw evolution as the basis for a unified rational explanation of all nature and the denial of the church dogmas. Haeckel did not support "survival of the fittest" or "natural selection", which he probably found (like most of today's scientists) as too deterministic and simplistic. Haeckel rather believed in inheritance of characteristics acquired through interaction with the environment, as earlier proposed by the French naturalist Lamarck (1744-1829), and the great German writer and scientist Goethe (1749-1832). According to Haeckel, these two together with Darwin were the "fathers of the theory of descent". To understand the difference between evolution and survival of the fittest by natural selection, once can consider the fact that in some parts of the world, with endemic malaria, people inherit the sickle-cell trait from their parents, a blood disorder, that weakens them but makes them immune to death from malaria. In effect, survival of the not-so-fit.

His Generelle Morphologie der Organismen (1866; “General Morphology of Organisms”) presented many of his evolutionary ideas. In 1868, Haeckel published "History of Creation" arguing that evolution consisted of 22 phases, the 21st was to be the famous "missing link" - the halfway step between apes and humans, which he called " Pithecanthropus alalus", or the speechless ape-man. His artistic leanings toward allowed him to outline numerous genealogical trees, and he was the first to reconstruct the human ancestral tree, to demonstrate man's descent from the lower animals.

Tree Lover

Enthusiastically attempting to explain both inorganic and organic nature under the same physical laws, Haeckel portrayed the lowest creature which he called "Moneron", as a mere protoplasm without nuclei; he speculated that they had arisen spontaneously through combinations of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sulfur. Haeckel tended to speculate and for some years pondered over the problem of heredity. Interestingly, though it was only on a theoretical basis, he suggested as early as 1866 that the cell nucleus was concerned with inheritance. Haeckel championed the notion of "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny," in other words, the development of an individual shows the evolutionary history of its species. He compared embryos of various vertebrate species to support this argument, but rather exaggerated the similarity of the embryos in their early stages. Later research however has found that large chunks of apparently useless DNA code that is common to man and other animals and left over from past evolutionary stages.

His political views became controversial later when they were twisted and misinterpreted by the Nazis, who isolated some of his more cynical quotes such as "Politics is applied biology". This association was unfair to him; in a letter to his mistress, when he was 64, he explained that after studying evolution he had became " a free-thinker and pantheist". Such an intelligent, free-thinker and humanist could never believe an inhuman and irrational dogma such as Nazism. Haeckel was also frequently accused of fudging and massaging data to prove his theories, so his scientific credentials were gradually disputed by his peers, However, his popularity with ordinary people did not diminish. If you visit Jena you can visit the Ernst Haeckel Haus which contains his books, archives, and mementos [ Link: Virtual Tour of his Study ]. Other notable sites in Jena include the old university buildings, the 14th-century town hall, St. Michael's Church (1438–1528), many medieval towers, the botanical gardens, the planetarium, and an optical school as Jena was also where Carl Zeiss founded the famous namesake optical firm. [ Link: ]

Related Reading

Haeckel, Ernst
The Riddle of the Universe.
Paperback: 405 pages
Publisher: Prometheus Books; Reprint edition (1992)


Faster than blight: Malaria ! 

Tourism is associated with recreation and good times, thus it is only too easy for some tourists to forget that the destinations they are visiting can be deadly, and we are not referring to war zones but to disease. Tourists can choose not to visit, or to take precautions, both options are however absent for many in the developing world, living in endemic malaria areas. According to the World Health Organisation, malaria kills as many as 2.7 million people worldwide each year (twice as many as AIDS), and sickens as many as half a billion. The 1995 Ebola outbreak in Zaire that inspired Hollywood movies caused 250 deaths over a period of six months, while about 200 Africans per hour die of malaria ! There is no vaccine, and drugs no longer work against some strains. Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds, freezes economic and social development, and consumes up to 40 percent of health budgets in some nations, to little effect. If global warming worries are proved correct, the future is bleaker as even now there are few places on earth that can not sustain a malaria pandemic. Add the rapid-growth in air travel, and the growth of tourism in remote infected parts of the world, and you can imagine the exponential growth in infected mosquitos earning frequent traveler points. The disease is so deadly that it has affected human evolution: humans in areas with chronic malaria, have developed over generations genetic protection against death (but not against illness) from malaria, in the form of a blood disorder, sickle-cell anemia, that otherwise makes them weaker.

What is it Malaria is a disease of the liver caused by infection with the Plasmodium, a protozoan parasite. More than a hundred species of this parasite exist, and it is capable of infecting reptiles, birds, rodents, and primates. Four species infect human beings, the most common and fatal being Plasmodium falciparum, as Death from infection by that species can occur within hours. The only known carrier of Malaria,  is the Anopheles mosquito,  easily recognised in their resting position, in which the proboscis, head, and body are held on a straight line to each other but at an angle to the surface.

How does it spread This infection is usually through a bite from a female mosquito, transmitted through the mosquito's saliva. This makes it deadly, as unlike HIV, malaria parasites keep their delivery system separate from their food supply. This way a single case of malaria can result in as many as a hundred more cases of malaria. Once injected, the parasites quickly retreat to the liver, where they mature and multiply. It is not until they re-emerge in the bloodstream and invade the blood cells that symptoms appear. By this time the parasites have reproduced thousands of times. Malaria can also spread from blood transfusion.

History & Outlook: There are few places on earth that cannot sustain or have not sustained a malaria epidemic. The disease was known as far back as 2700 BCE in China. Hippocrates was the first to associate malaria with proximity to stagnant water. In the 16th century Italian doctors coined the term mal'aria as they believed that the disease traveled by bad air. In 1897 Indian-born Sir Ronald Ross, prompted by the fact that a third of the hospital beds in India were occupied by malaria patients, discovered that the disease was carried by mosquitos, and was rewarded by the Nobel in 1902 for this discovery. In the 20th century, war was declared on the malaria carrying mosquito, and there are few illnesses that have been fought so fiercely and in such a globally organised fashion, that not only were not eradicated, but were made stronger as a result.

About fourty years ago the World Health Organization targeted malaria for global eradication, spending hundreds of millions of dollars, back then. DDT, the powerful insecticide was sprayed throughout Africa and Asia, aiming to kill the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, the carrier rather than the message. After some positive results in areas with minor problems, mosquitoes in areas where the disease was solidly endemic acquired resistance to the insecticides ! Moreover DDT was proven to have serious side-effects on humans leading to birth defects.

In 1969 WHO retreated, replacing the Global Eradication of Malaria Program with a global malaria-control strategy. By 1975 reported malaria incidence was far higher than what it had been fifteen years earlier. Μalaria has since returned in full force to most of its traditional haunts. Worldwide incidence of the disease has quadrupled in the past five years, and resistance to available drugs for prevention and treatment is growing rapidly as illiterate patients, adventurers and refugees in remote areas such as Northern Thailand or Brazil, that develop malaria, desperately try whatever drug is offered to them.

This story should not put you off from travelling: Anopheles mosquitoes are now common almost everywhere in the world... Nearly 40 percent of the world's population lives in regions where malaria is endemic, and millions more live in areas that are encountering the disease for the first time in decades. Europe has had outbreaks, and in the United States around a thousand cases are reported annually, some the result of locally transmitted malaria.

A recent glimmer of hope is the discovery by scientists that mosquitoes are attracted by human and animal body odour (up to 150 feet afar!) and use it to navigate, and currently research ways to short-circuit the mosquitoes' prime navigational system. Shop
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How to avoid 1. Take it seriously and speak to a doctor before traveling to a malaria infected area 2. Avoid Mosquito bites 3. Avoid dark-coloured clothing 4. Avoid short pants and short-sleeved shirts. 5. Use mosquito repellents. 6. Avoid perfumes and aftershave.  7. Use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) 8. Wear clothes impregnated with permethrin. 9. If allowed by your doctor, take malaria tablets 10. Use chemical substances such as DEET on exposed skin, knowing however that they can also do harm. Always read instructions and precautions. 10. Wash ! Female mosquitoes are attracted to human body odours, especially feet !

Symptoms Fever, chills, sweating, headache, diarrhea, abdominal pains.

Cure Seek Medical Help. Usually doctors prescribe malaria tablets different than the ones you were taking, if you were taking any. Tablet options include mefloquine, fansidar, halofantrine or quinine sulphate.



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