Shipwrecks Wreck Reefs

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


800px-RMS_Rhone_2003_10.jpg Shipwrecks on coral reefs appear to increase the invasion of alien species. A US Geological Survey study finds unwanted species completely overtake the shipwreck and eventually the surrounding reef, eliminating all native corals and dramatically decreasing the diversity of other reef organisms.

Sadly, we’ve been deliberately sinking ships for decades, imagining they might “anchor” healthy new reef communities. But the new study published in the open access journal PloS One is the first to document how manmade structures rapidly destroy the coral community.

The study was conducted at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the central Pacific. This remote area has seen little human activity since WWII. Scientists began surveying a 1991 shipwreck in 2004. Since then, they’ve observed exponentially increasing populations of a anemonelike animal, Rhodactis howesii, around the wreck. The densities decrease with distance from the ship. Although Rhodactis are rare to absent in other parts of the atoll, they’re also populous around buoys.

The exact relationship between shipwreck and Rhodactis is unknown. But one possibility is that iron leaching from the ship (and mooring buoys’ chains) somehow promotes the growth of R. howesii. Given the sheer speed of ecosystem changes, the researchers doubt that even the removal of the shipwreck will halt the alien invasion.

Will this be our epitaph? Veering from one tragic phase shift to another. The ship that sank was a longliner—among the most horrifically destructive technologies ever invented. . . and still deadly, even in death.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones’ environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate