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    AOTE Cayman Slideshow AOTE Cayman Slideshow Presentation Transcript

    • Ambassadors of the Environment The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman
    • Grand Cayman, an island in the western Caribbean replete with beautiful coral reefs and lush mangrove forests, is an ideal place to connect with the wonders of nature. Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Grand Cayman immerses guests in these tropical ecosystems, fostering personal connections with nature through education and adventure.
    • This is the Ambassadors of the Environment learning center, the Ambassadors Heritage House. It features several examples of environmentally friendly architecture, such as solar lighting and flooring made from recycled shoe material. This place is the launch pad for countless undersea adventures.
    • In the Ambassadors of the Environment program, guests get the opportunity to dive straight into the underwater world of the coral reef. They soon learn that reefs are not just random assemblages of beautiful critters, but rather efficient, tightly functioning ecosystems where every creature plays a specific role in the community as a whole.
    • In the Ambassadors program, we use a “city under the sea” metaphor to understand the ecological roles of many different creatures on the reef. Just like human cities where everyone has a specific job, coral reefs have power plants, farmers, recycling and waste managers, public health professionals, and demolition crews.
    • Corals are the “architects” and “construction crews” of the reef. They grow into big, building-like structures full of nooks and crannies in which other organisms can live or find shelter.
    • As the construction crews and architects of the reef, coral provide homes for many different creatures on the reef, like this Christmas tree worm and this blenny.
    • Coral with algae Algae partners Algae are “plants” of the ocean. Some types of algae are tiny and live inside the tissues of corals (right), while others are larger and grow by themselves on any surface they can find (left). These algae serve as solar power plants on the reef. Like green plants on land, they use sunlight to make their own energy rich food in a process called photosynthesis and constitute part of the base of the food chain. Therefore, like our electric power plants, algae and corals (with their algae partners) provide energy for the entire coral city.
    • Sponges help clean the reef, filtering water through their porous bodies to extract a tasty meal of organic matter like plankton and bacteria. This makes the water clean, clear, and healthy for the other reef inhabitants.
    • There are also “farmers” on the reef. Some damselfish maintain patches of algae to ensure a steady food supply, “weeding out” unwanted organisms and defending their gardens from intruders. This feisty damselfish is facing off with his own reflection!
    • Sea cucumbers are the “waste managers” of the coral reef. They roam the seafloor, ingesting a mixture of sand and dead organic matter (detritus) and excreting clean sand. This keeps the reef clean and healthy and ensures that not even the “trash” of the reef is wasted.
    • There are also several “doctors” in the coral city, including juvenile spanish hogfish. They keep other fish healthy by picking off their parasites and dead scales…and eating them! This relationship is called mutualism because both parties benefit: the fish “patient” gets its parasites removed and the cleaner wrasse gets an easy meal.
    • There are also “demolition crews” on the reef. When parrotfish and sea urchins feed upon algae, they scrape away some of the dead coral skeleton underneath with their rasping teeth and parrot-like beaks. This action erodes the reef and turns old coral skeletons into sand!
    • Mangroves serve as “nurseries” for countless inhabitants of the coral reef. Mangroves are salt tolerant trees that grow along shorelines and have special roots that stick up out of the soil, creating a labyrinth of little spaces where only young, small fish can fit. Therefore, young fish of many different reef species live in the shallow, safe waters around the mangrove roots to avoid predators while they grow up. This habitat, though often far away from coral reefs, is very important to keep the population of the coral city healthy and thriving.
    • There is also “advertising” on the reef. Just like our TV, radio, and Internet, coral reefs contain endless advertisements. This nudibranch advertises with bright colors to let others know that it is toxic and warn predators to stay away.
    • We have now learned that coral reefs and cities have many similarities. However, unlike in human cities, the inhabitants of coral reefs and rainforests do not pollute, deplete their natural resources, or destroy other ecosystems. Therefore, coral reefs offer lessons that can help us make our own communities more sustainable. What can we learn from coral cities?
    • The Four Principles By understanding how nature works, we can imitate it and make our own way of life more sustainable on Earth. In the Ambassadors of the Environment program, we learned four simple lessons about how nature works and used them to brainstorm ways to live sustainably. We call them the Four Principals.
    • The Four Principles 1. Everything Runs On Energy. 2. There Is No Waste In Nature. 3. Biodiversity Is Good. 4. Everything Is Connected.
    • 1. Everything Runs On Energy Just like our bodies, cars, light bulbs, computers, televisions, and kitchen appliances –every organism in nature needs energy. Some creatures, like most corals (with their algae partners) and plants, get their energy from the sun in a process called photosynthesis, and therefore we call them “primary producers.” This elkhorn coral is one such primary producer; it grows upward toward the sunlight to collect as much energy as possible.
    • Corals are actually animals, not plants. Each little circle shown here is an individual coral animal, or polyp. The entire colony of polyps are clones of a single original individual, and together they are called a coral head. However, we know that plants perform photosynthesis, not animals. So how do corals manage to do photosynthesis?
    • Coral polyps contain little brown or green plants called algae inside their bodies. These algae give a portion of the sugars they create through photosynthesis to their coral host in exchange for their safe home inside the coral’s body. The coral then gives the digested remains of the sugar back to the algae, which the algae then use to manufacture more sugar! This tight, efficient partnership is how corals get much of their energy and enables them to survive in the relatively nutrient-poor waters of the tropics.
    • But what happens when the sun goes down and the algae inside the coral can no longer photosynthesize? The coral polyps, having been folded safely away during the day, emerge to catch prey like little upside-down jelly fish. (Indeed, coral is very closely related to jelly fish!) They have stinging capsules called nematocysts that catch passing plankton. Coral are truly amazing- they lead the life of a plant by day, and an animal by night!
    • Plants are well-known for performing photosynthesis, and they are the biggest natural power plant on land. They contain tiny packets of a green pigment called chlorophyll that absorb the energy in photons of sunlight, powering the manufacture of sugars from very simple building blocks. These sugars then feed the entire plant.
    • When primary producers like plants or coral are eaten, energy is transferred up the food chain. Energy flows from primary producers to herbivores, and then to predators. This means that all organisms in these ecosystems are powered by energy that originally came from the sun!
    • But natural ecosystems are HUGE! How do plants and coral provide enough energy to help support these massive food chains? Well, there is strength in numbers. In the ocean and on land, the landscape is covered with plants, coral, and algae- with “solar collectors.” This ensures that the entire ecosystem has energy to grow and survive. We could learn from nature’s example and cover our cityscape with solar panels, putting solar panels and gardens on all of our roofs…just like we saw in nature.
    • How do humans presently get most of their power? From oil and coal- power plants. In these power plants, oil or coal is burned to heat water and create steam, which turns turbines that generate electricity. However, burning oil and coal releases harmful greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere, contributing to global climate change. This serious problem could be solved by switching to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy.
    • We explored some of these alternative energy sources in the Ambassadors of the Environment program. Here, we used a solar oven for cooking and explored the uses of solar panels. Solar energy is easy and only requires sunlight - a free and renewable source of energy!
    • 2. There Is No Waste In Nature The second Principle says there is no waste in nature. For example, on coral reefs, creatures such as sea cucumbers and lobsters specialize on eating detritus, the organic “leftovers” or “dead stuff” on the seafloor. Along with worms and microbes, sea cucumbers and lobsters ensure that virtually all useful material is used on the reef.
    • Hermit crabs ensure that vacated snail shells are not wasted. They turn them into their mobile homes!
    • This christmas tree worm bores a hole into the coral below it to create a safe place to live. Given that there’s no waste in nature, what do you think is going to happen to this hole when the worm dies?
    • It will become a home for another animal, like this blenny!
    • Today, humans tend to waste a lot of resources. One thing we can do to change this situation is compost. Composting is where worms, bugs and microbes convert organic waste into soil, just as we see in nature. By composting food leftovers, we prevent garbage from going to ever- growing landfills. Instead, waste is converted into useful, fertile soil that can be reused in a garden.
    • 3. Biodiversity Is Good Biodiversity refers to the number of different species that live in a certain ecosystem. It is kind of like nature’s insurance policy, because when there are a lot of different organisms in an ecosystem, all of the important work needed to keep the community healthy gets done. If one species ails or disappears, many others are around to replace it. Therefore, biodiversity is what keeps complex ecosystems like coral reefs running smoothly. Also, biodiversity is what makes our world interesting and beautiful!
    • Here is a taste of the amazing biodiversity that can be found on Grand Cayman’s coral reefs!
    • Just look at the diversity among corals alone. How many different types of coral can you count here?
    • High biodiversity means that there is a great variety of form and function in the coral reef. For example, these porous sponges filter water through their bodies. Water comes in through small pores in their sides, is filtered for food, and leaves through the big holes.
    • Here are two different kinds of algae. The green algae is called a sailor’s eyeball, and it is growing on top of pink coralline algae, a type of red algae that covers most reef surfaces and acts like mortar, cementing pieces of the reef together and helping prevent erosion.
    • A diverse family of butterflyfish lives on Grand Cayman’s coral reefs. These fish often have a spot called a false eye on their bodies, an adaptation that distracts predators from their real eyes. As you can see, some species also have a dark line over their real eyes to further confuse a predator.
    • The long, thin shape of these trumpetfish help them blend in with various gorgonians and soft coral. They often wait here, swaying in time with the gentle motion of their surroundings, ready to suddenly dart out and catch passing prey.
    • Parrotfish use their sharp beaks to scrape algae from rocks and coral skeletons, keeping the growth of algae in check. As they graze, they often gouge into dead coral and take in some of the calcium carbonate, later excreting this material as sand. One parrotfish can produce 300 lbs of sand in one year!
    • So next time you walk down a tropical, sandy beach, remember where some of that sand likely came from!
    • Sea stars are members of the echinoderm phylum, and they are related to sea urchins and sea cucumbers. “Echinoderm” means spiny skin, an appropriate name since you can see many projections of its skeleton on the surface of this sea star. On the underside of the sea star you can find tube feet, thousands of small suckers the sea star uses to stick to the ground or slowly move around.
    • Reef squid are swift, streamlined predators of the reef. They are related to the octopus, but instead of crawling over the reef like their cousins, they swim continuously. Some can swim so fast that they have been found on the decks of ships over 30 feet above the water. Pigment and reflective chemicals are manipulated to give squids an unlimited suite of options for color change.
    • Moray eels have long, skinny, flexible bodies ideal for squeezing into tight spaces in pursuit of prey. They also have sharp teeth ideal for grabbing and holding prey.
    • Jacks school in large groups, and together the light reflecting off their shiny silver bodies disorients and confuses predators, making it hard to pick out a single individual to pursue. This adaptation protects the entire group.
    • Groupers are another predator of the coral reef. They have evolved very large mouths that create a vacuum when opened, and they literally suck their prey in.
    • Diversity is good even within a single species! The queen angelfish look different at their adult and juvenile stages so the young fish are not forced to compete as adults.
    • The same is the case for the French Angelfish. Look at the differences between the juveniles (top left) and the adult (bottom).
    • Grand Cayman also hosts great biodiversity on land. This is the blue iguana, a native and endemic resident of the island. “Endemic” means that the blue iguana evolved on Grand Cayman and has always lived there exclusively.
    • Mangroves are another example of Grand Cayman’s biodiversity. As one of the few salt-tolerant plants, they live on margin between land and sea, bordering some of the island. They create essential habitat where many fish, birds, and other critters live.
    • 4. Everything Is Connected The fourth Ambassadors of the Environment principle is that EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED–person to person, creature to creature, land to sea, and present to future. We encountered many examples of connections between organisms both in the ocean and on land. For example, this tiny yellow and black goby has a partnership with reef fish in which it eats their dead scales and parasites: it gets a meal in exchange for a cleaning!
    • There are connections between various fish that live on the reef. This jack is using a queen triggerfish as a moving shield to hide behind while it hunts. Notice the jack is on the side away from the reef so that it is concealed. Just after this picture was taken the jack darted to the reef and caught a small fish then returned to its position next to the triggerfish.
    • Here is an example of a negative connection between reef creatures. This isopod has attached itself to a soldierfish and is leaching energy and nutrients from the fish’s blood. This is a parasitic relationship because the isopod benefits while the soldierfish is harmed.
    • There are often connections between organisms that we do not notice at first glance! This orange blob is a sponge but there is more to this story than what you see. What do you think we would find if we turned this sponge over?
    • In the sponge is a crab. In fact, this crab has specially adapted hind legs that hold the sponge in place. Why do you think the crab does this?
    • By carrying around the sponge, the crab is not only hidden but it is also protected by the distasteful chemicals in the sponge.
    • Frigate birds bridge the gap between land and sea. They spend much of their lives out to sea, in the open ocean or pelagic region, coming to shore to breed or rest.
    • Humans enter the underwater world as guests. We respect the life around us by not touching the reef and keeping an appropriate distance from its inhabitants. However, sometimes we have effects on these organisms that we are not aware of.
    • Humans are very closely connected to the ocean. When we pollute our oceans, it contributes to coral bleaching, one of the serious threats to coral reefs today. When corals become stressed due to something like pollution, they expel their symbiotic algae, becoming white and having no way to photosynthesize. Unless the coral can find new algal symbionts (which is not very likely), they end up starving to death.
    • Notice the color of this healthy coral head compared to that of the bleached coral. This is a very conspicuous example of how humans have a negative impact on the health of the reef!
    • Human pollution can also upset the balance between reef creatures. Coral and algae usually compete for space on the reef and are evenly matched, but when extra nutrients from human runoff or pollution are introduced to the system, the algae get an advantage. This is another example of the delicate connections between organisms on the reef and how human actions can directly affect the reef ecosystem.
    • Here is another obvious example of how humans are connected to the natural world. What do you think this litter could do to the mangrove and coral reef ecosystems?
    • The Ambassadors Of the Environment program includes a game called The Web of Life, and it’s all about connections. Each person chooses a creature and thinks of how it is connected to the one across the circle. Eventually we see that every creature is connected to the others, as is represented by the rope. With all the species healthy and connections strong, the web of life can support the human race.
    • However, when one creature goes extinct or declines in health, the effects ripple through the entire web of life, weakening the integrity of the web and compromising its ability to support the human race. It is for this reason we need to preserve our environment and keep it healthy!
    • Here is a summary of the Four Principles. As we saw, these four simple rules have many applications. They can show humans how to better imitate nature and live in harmony with it, moving from a lifestyle of destruction and waste to one of sustainability. 1. Everything Runs On Energy. 2. There Is No Waste In Nature. 3. Biodiversity Is Good. 4. Everything Is Connected.
    • In addition to learning these facts about nature, the Ambassadors program is all about appreciating nature. This is easy in such a beautiful place.
    • With the knowledge, tools, and new motivation to protect the environment, guests leave the Ambassadors program as Ambassadors of the Environment, ready to spread the lessons they learned from nature in their local communities in pursuit of a more sustainable lifestyle and brighter future for humans and the environment!