Announcing the winners of the 2022 Science Without Borders® Challenge!

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The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is thrilled to announce the winners of our annual student art competition, the Science Without Borders® Challenge. Now in its tenth year, this international contest engages students in ocean conservation through art, encouraging them to create artwork that inspires people to preserve, protect, and restore the world’s oceans. This year, students were asked to illustrate a ‘Ridge to Reef’ approach to coral reef conservation—and they delivered!

Over 500 primary and secondary school students from nearly 50 countries submitted artwork to the 2022 Science Without Borders® Challenge, sending in beautiful artwork illustrating what people can do to help coral reefs on land and at sea. Artwork in the competition was judged in two categories based on age. The winning entries in each category are beautiful pieces of artwork as well as excellent illustrations of how this ridge-to-reef approach to conservation can be used to preserve, protect, and restore coral reefs.

Riyadh Blue Talk: Tune-in Tomorrow @ 7am ET

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The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is delighted to be participating in the Riyadh Blue Talk tomorrow morning, May 24, 2022.

The “Riyadh Blue Talk” is organized by the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator, the Embassy of Portugal, and the Embassy of Kenya in Riyadh. The event begins at 7am ET and will be live-streamed to allow for virtual participation.

The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation has been invited to share our knowledge of marine science and conservation, and to present our work to provide science-based solutions to protect and restore ocean health.

Our Chief Scientist, Sam Purkis, will be discussing what measures can be implemented so we can have accessible, affordable, shared data to better support the decision-making process towards ocean sustainability. He will also be participating in a panel discussion on increasing scientific knowledge and developing research capacity to advance ocean conservation initiatives.

Tune in to watch his presentation LIVE @ 8:20 am ET!

This Earth Day, Celebrate our Planet’s Blue Heart

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This Earth Day, we invite you to celebrate the blue heart of our planet: our oceans. The oceans produce half the oxygen we breathe, regulate our climate, sequester vast amounts of carbon, and even control the weather. The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation focuses on ocean conservation because we want to protect, preserve, and restore the health of our planet’s blue heart— our living oceans.

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, USA caught fire. Not a boat on the river, or something in the water — the water itself had so much flammable waste dumped into it that it quite literally caught fire, garnering the attention of the entire nation. That same year….

The Protists Prophets: An Innovative Way to Unlock the Past, Present, and Future of Coral Reefs

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Coral reef ecosystems are rapidly declining due to numerous local and global pressures such as climate change and pollution. In response to the coral reef crisis, the Khaled bin Sultan Living Ocean Foundation (KSLOF) conducted the Global Reef Expedition (GRE) to assess the state of coral reefs in 16 countries around the world. The expedition helped generate extensive data collection including coral reef maps and benthic surveys and 2,500 sediment samples from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. After traveling more than 50,000 km conducting research, the GRE’s valuable data opens the curiosity to explore unconventional approaches to globally evaluate coral reef health.

Now, the Khaled Sultan Living Oceans Foundation and the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (UM-RSMAS) are working together on a new project called Protist Prophets. Run by Dr. Sam Purkis’s lab at RSMAS and funded by the National Science Foundation, this exciting project uses the sediment samples KSLOF collected on the GRE to evaluate global reef health using benthic foraminifers (forams) as markers of environmental changes and stressors. Our innovative scientific efforts will inform reef conservation strategies and develop non-traditional reef management techniques. Plus, we will assemble the Little Creature with a Big Message educational curriculum using the foram data to complement the foundation’s existing Coral Reef Ecology Curriculum available in the KSLOF Educational Portal.

Foraminifera are windows to understanding long-term coral reef stress

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This guest blog comes from Dr. Alexander Humphreys, a geology lecturer and researcher at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is working with Dr. Humphreys and our partners at UM on a new National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project, “Protists Prophets,” that is looking at benthic sediment samples collected on the Global Reef Expedition (GRE) to assess the state of the coral reef environment over the past 1,000 years.

I am a modern benthic foraminiferal researcher, which means that I study some of the tiniest organisms in the ocean in order to learn about past environmental conditions on coral reefs. However, before we get to this story, let me first explain a bit about these little critters and their importance to science.

Foraminifera, or forams for short, are protists, which are single-celled amoeba-like organisms that grow a protective shell, called a ‘test’. Today there are roughly 4,000 species of forams and they can be found living in all the world’s oceans, from polar environments to the deepest ocean trenches nearly 11 km down. Forams are important to science because they have short lifespans and are sensitive to environmental change. This sensitivity causes rapid shuffling of species abundances over time as the environmental conditions and climates gradually—and sometime abruptly—fluctuate. When the life of a foram comes to an end, the story does not stop there because even though the organism decays, its hard protective test preserves well and fossilizes, laying down evidence of these population changes in the geologic record—one that goes back 500 million years! I approach this deep fossil record of foraminifera like the pages in a book that tells the story of oceanic and environmental change. The trick is learning how to read the story that these little protists have to tell.

Corals in the Anthropocene

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This guest blog comes from a former KSLOF fellow, Dr. Anderson Mayfield, who joined the foundation on many of our Global Reef Expedition research missions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. A former student of the renowned coral biologist Dr. Ruth Gates, Dr. Mayfield studies coral health and physiology at NOAA’s AOML Coral Program and at the University of Miami’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies. He continues to publish scientific papers based on data collected on the Global Reef Expedition, including his latest paper, recently published in the journal Oceans.

As a naïve post-doctoral researcher back in 2012, I had an idea that was surely far from novel at the time: corals of far-flung, uninhabited atolls are in better shape than those closer to major human population centers. The logic was that these corals would be under global-scale stressors only (namely those associated with climate change), and not the threats that instead plague reefs close to cities (such as pollution and overfishing).

As a fellow with the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation during their Global Reef Expedition (GRE), I tested this hypothesis by sampling corals from among the most seemingly pristine islands and atolls in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Although we certainly observed beautiful reefs with high coral cover (see image above) and diversity as well as a plethora of fish —all the visible hallmarks marine biologists look for in ‘healthy’ reefs—the corals themselves told a different story (Mayfield et al., 2017); high cellular stress levels were documented in the vast majority of the many hundreds of corals sampled across the GRE.

Despite looking healthy, the corals were struggling to survive.

These high stress levels do not, in and of themselves, imply that all such sampled corals are not long for this Earth. They do signify, however, that we likely never visited ‘pristine’ reefs during the GRE, despite studying some of the most remote coral reefs on the planet. This is a testament to the wide reach of climate change. This statement may come as a surprise to some, who, like me, assumed that somewhere out there, one might find corals entirely untouched by humankind, but this unfortunately does not appear to be the case.

Sea Secrets Lecture: Beauty and Peril in the Red Sea

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Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Sam Purkis, will be giving a virtual lecture on January 18th at 7pm ET entitled “Beauty and Peril in the Red Sea.”

Dr. Purkis has joined the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation on many research missions, including several to the Red Sea. We hope you take this opportunity to hear more about his work and learn about the remarkable diversity and resiliency of coral reefs in the Red Sea.

Reflections on a Big Year

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As 2021 comes to a close, the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is taking some time to reflect on everything we have accomplished this year.

Despite the restrictions imposed by the ongoing pandemic, we have had quite a few things to celebrate. This year we entered into a partnership with NASA to map the world’s reefs, concluded our 10-year Global Reef Expedition, and published a final report of our findings. We also presented our research at two major international conferences: the IUCN World Conservation Congress and the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), released a report of our research in the Chagos Archipelago, and published several peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Our education and outreach departments also had a remarkable year. This year we launched a new mangrove conservation program with our partners in Jamaica and had students from over 60 countries submit artwork to our Science Without Borders Challenge. Last but certainly not least, we produced an excellent TV show on ocean health, “Our Living Oceans,” which is now playing on EarthxTV.

It’s been an incredible year, and we look forward to the work we will accomplish next year to help protect, preserve, and restore our living oceans.

What We Learned: Collaboration with Local Communities has the Biggest Impact on Reef Conservation

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On the Global Reef Expedition, we prioritized using a collaborative approach to study and map coral reefs by partnering with scientific and local experts in each of the countries we visited. While the scientific team was conducting surveys underwater, we also implemented various outreach and education programs in parallel to improve ocean literacy and inspire the next generation of ocean advocates. The partnerships we formed allowed us to exchange knowledge and learn how local communities were using and managing their marine resources.

One of the biggest take-aways from the GRE was that nearly every community we worked with expressed, and continues to express, the want and need for conservation of their reef systems. Working directly with communities, sharing findings, using our education and outreach programs, and expanding on the current management efforts has proven to be the most successful in conserving the reefs visited on the GRE.

What We Learned: Marine Protected Areas Work in Conserving Coral Reefs

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Managing marine resources is a challenge for communities around the globe. On the Global Reef Expedition, we had the opportunity to visit protected and unprotected reefs in both remote locations and those regularly used by humans. The degree of protection varied, but we found that areas with the highest protection had the healthiest reefs.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a tool commonly used by governments and communities to manage their marine resources. An MPA can have varying degrees of regulations, including no-take and no-entry where no fishing is allowed and entrance into the park is not permitted, to varying permitted use that regulate the fishing and use practices. Some of the countries we visited, such as Australia (Northern Great Barrier Reef), Palau, and New Caledonia have large human populations utilizing the reefs and have prioritized establishing large protected and managed areas to conserve their nearshore reef systems.