Understanding Fragile Reefs

It is important to understand that all the reefs we have or will explore are extremely fragile.  The things we do each day take their toll on our surroundings so we try to learn how we can change our environment, and what actions we can take to lessen our impact.  It’s tricky business trying to determine if a recent worldwide decline of healthy coral reefs is the result of man-made interference.  Or perhaps it’s part of a regular cycle of natural events in tropical water of which we were not previously aware?  Divers and scientists around the world began to notice coral bleaching and subsequent coral deaths in the early 1980s.  This coincided with an increase in tourism to tropical locations.  As a result more snorkelers and divers came in contact with the reef, more sewage entered the water, and construction and development increased along with pollution.  These factors might lead us to conclude that reef damage is in fact caused by man.


In 1982-83 the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) was particularly strong and drastically changed seal level and wind directions in the Pacific, especially around the equator.  It is difficult to document a connection, but the timing of reef deterioration leads many scientists to believe on exists.  Damage to coral reefs is related to changes in salinity, water temperature, pollution and large loads of suspended materials.  In the Caribbean, these changes seem to stem more from human impacts than from climatic impacts.  Many potentially begun to destroy them.  Without long term records and observations of coral bleaching and its relationship to temperatures and pollution we don’t have evidence to make connections between cause and effect.  We need time to make observations, people willing to study reefs, and education and awareness in the general public.


Reefs play a vital role in protecting fragile coastal systems from extensive wave damage.  For humans, reefs potentially hold many medicines and healing properties.  Coral is already used in surgery where bones need strengthening and repair.  Sponges are used for an array of pharmaceuticals.  Algae is used as a food source by eastern and western cultures.. If you brush your teeth with toothpaste, use lip balm, eat ice cream, milkshakes, or jell-o, then you have eaten and used algae (it’s listed as the ingredient carrageenen).  Diving or snorkeling on a reef can be a dramatic experience for people.  Being exposed to an element so different from our own routine has an incalculable effect.  Reefs are also so invaluable for their educational value.  And of course it goes without saying that they variance of life forms on the reef is vital for genetic diversity.  Without richness of species, life forms are more prone to extinction when environmental conditions change.


It may seem that the impacts on reefs are too great to counter, but that is not at all the case.  As we learn how our actions affect the marine ecosystems, we also learn what steps we can take to lessen our impact.  Education and a change in bad habits our our long-term goals.  By enrolling in a PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course you can enhance your own personal reef preservation skills by becoming a “neutral” diver, one who has no impact, either positive or negative.  In the PADI Photography or Videography specialties you can learn new ways to enjoy all underwater ecosystems without causing any damage.  Learn to live by the motto “take only pictures, leave only bubbles”!!  Likewise, participation in underwater cleanup or reef restoration projects in your area will make a difference.  Support Project Aware by hosting an underwater clean-up of your own and get your community involved in the effort to preserve the oceans.

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Weather Proverbs: True or False?

For centuries, people have been attempting to predict the weather.  Sailors, in particular, focus heavily on conditions at sea.  Throughout the years, man’s observations took the form of some interesting proverbs.  Let’s take a look at the science behind these observations.

Red sky at morning,
Sailors take warning;
Red sky at night,

Sailors delight


The explanation for this is quite simple.  A red sunset occurs when you view it through dust particles which are the main ingredient for rain.  Each rain drop has a tiny dust particle inside it.  Weather, for the most part, flows from west to east.  So when you see the red sky at night you are seeing dry weather soon to come.  The dust particles have not developed into rain.  The red sky in the morning is caused by the sun lighting up the cirrus clouds before it has actually risen.  These clouds are generally followed by cirrostratus clouds and lowering frontal clouds which produce foul weather.

Mackerel skies and mare’s tails,
Make all tall ships carry low sails.

If there are just a few high-flying cirrus clouds that resemble mare’s tails then good weather is on its way.  However, when the sky becomes overwhelmed by cirrocumulus or mackerel clouds (resemble rippled sand on a beach) you can expect a storm.  Cirrocumulus clouds frequently appear before a warm front and veering winds which eventually brings precipitation.

A sailor is truly salty once he can manage the helm and sail trim while keeping a weather eye on the horizon for approaching ships and storms.  The clouds that are almost always present in the Caribbean sky give a detailed look into the next 12 hours of weather for the sailor who knows what to look for.  The best way to read the clouds is to know their different types and what each one means:



Rainbow in the morning,
Sailors take warning;
Rainbow at night,
Sailors delight.

The explanation is even simpler than for the previous proverb.  As you remember, storms usually travel from west to east.  If you were to see a rainbow in the morning you are looking at it in the west as the sun shining over your back rises in the east.  If the rainbow is in the west, the storm has not yet passed.  The reverse holds true in the evening.  You will see the rainbow in the east as the sun sets in the west and the storm has already passed you by.

Rainbow to windward, foul fall the day;
Rainbow to leeward, rain run away.

If the rainbow is in the direction of the prevailing wind, then the bad weather has not passed through yet and you should prepare to get wet.  Conversely, if you see the rainbow to the leeward then the storm has already passed and you can enjoy the sights.

Winds that swing against the sun
and winds that bring rain are one.
Winds that swing around the sun
Keep the rain storm on the run.

Again, we rely on the fact that most weather moves from west to east.  Therefore, winds that swing with the sun (east to west) bring good weather while winds that blow against the direction of the sun (west to east), bring bad weather.

When a halo rings the moon or the sun
The rain will come upon the run.

Halos are very good indicators for upcoming weather.  When you look at the sun or moon through a halo, you are looking at it through ice crystals formed in high cirriform clouds.  When the whole sky is covered with these clouds, a warm front is approaching and it will begin to rain soon.

After understanding the scientific reasoning behind them, some of these proverbs are quite plausible, but not always accurate.  Have fun seeing how often they come true for you, but use with caution!


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