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Scientists race to prevent invasive coral from smothering native reefs: 'It will invade the entirety of the Caribbean'

"This is a fight for decades, generations."

"This is a fight for decades, generations."

Photo Credit: iStock

In the heart of Venezuela, a dedicated team is fighting against a formidable foe threatening the vibrant underwater ecosystems of the Caribbean, as reported by The Washington Post. 

Estrella Villamizar, a tropical ecology professor at the Central University of Venezuela, is among the leaders in this endeavor. Alongside biologists, chemists, villagers, and entrepreneurs, she's taking on Unomia stolonifera, an invasive coral species threatening the native varieties.

"At this point, it is almost certain that it will invade the entirety of the Caribbean," Villamizar said.

Invasive species are often referred to as ecological homewreckers because of their ability to disrupt the balance of natural ecosystems. 

The trouble with invasive species is that they can outcompete native plants and animals for resources like food and water. Since they're not from the area, they often don't have natural predators to keep their populations in check, which can lead to them multiplying rapidly and taking over. 

This can result in native species declining or even going extinct, which is a big problem for biodiversity. A diverse ecosystem is crucial for things like food production, clean water, and disease regulation — all of which are essential for our well-being and the planet's health.

Unomia's rapid spread covers vast stretches of coastline totaling around 1,000 square miles. Originating from Indonesia, this slimy coral suffocates local reefs, depriving marine life of crucial habitats. This not only endangers biodiversity but also impacts the livelihoods of people who rely on fishing and tourism.

Jorge García, an industrial designer, has developed new machinery to remove Unomia efficiently. His ultrasound technology targets and dislodges the invasive coral, offering a more effective alternative to manual extraction. García's dedication, coupled with personal investment nearing $1 million, showcases a grassroots approach to conservation.

Additionally, Project Coralien, a collaborative initiative of marine biologists and chemists, explores novel solutions to make Unomia into waterproofing or fluorescent materials. 

Finally, The Unomia Project, spearheaded by marine biologist Juan Pedro Ruiz-Allais, expands public awareness of the problem through education and prevention efforts. Despite limited resources, Ruiz-Allais and his team provide essential guidance to fishermen and beachgoers on identifying and containing Unomia. 

The resilience and determination of local communities and conservationists offer hope for the future of Venezuela's marine ecosystems. 

As García aptly puts it, "This is a fight for decades, generations."

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