Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 19:52 EDT

Alabama Pilot’s Nightmare in Shark-infested Waters May Help Save Coral Reefs

December 2, 2011

LANDOVER, MD, Dec. 2, 2011 /PRNewswire/ – Twenty five years ago, on December 4,
1986, Walter Wyatt’s plane crashed in the waters of Cay Sal Bank, a
remote area between Cuba and The Bahamas. It sank almost immediately.

Walter, who now lives in Enterprise, Alabama, spent a night in the ocean
fending off sharks, plugging holes in his leaking life vest, and hoping
for a merciful end. The Coast Guard located and saved him the next
morning and his harrowing experience made many headlines.

Now, a quarter-century later, his sunken plane has played an important
part in a discovery that may help scientists better understand coral
reef ecosystems.

In April, 2011, researchers from the Global Reef Expedition, a project
of the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, stumbled upon
Walter’s submerged twin-engine plane. That discovery shed light on the
mysterious formation of perfectly circular “meadows” of seagrass.

The Seagrass circles range in diameter from a few dozen meters to
hundreds of meters. Some are solid circles and others have a ‘doughnut
hole’ in the middle. They are important to the health of coral reefs,
because they provide vital nursery habitat and feeding areas to many
animal species that live in and around reefs. But their round shape has
been baffling.

Scientists from the Global Reef Expedition, a multi year research
program to study and preserve coral reefs around the world, discovered
filled in sink holes under the solid seagrass circles. And, in every
doughnut shaped seagrass circle they found a synthetic object,
including Walter Wyatt’s plane.

Research suggests that phosphorous leaching from the sinkholes acts like
a fertilizer for the solid circular seagrass beds above. And, for the
doughnut shaped seagrass beds another kind of fertilizer is at work.

Underwater observations made during reef surveys revealed that Walter
Wyatt’s plane is acting as an artificial reef, providing safe harbor
for many fishes and marine invertebrates. This “fertilizer,” the
researchers believe, is the waste excreted by the animals that make the
reefs home.  To avoid predators, these creatures typically venture just
a short distance from the safety of the reefs.  As a result, they
fertilize a relatively narrow ring around the ‘reef’ or object.  It’s
in this circular ring where seagrass thrives.

The findings of the Global Reef Expedition will help the Bahamian
government better manage Cay Sal Bank.  That should lead to improved
protection of the coral reefs that are such a vital part of ocean
environment.  That’s good news for coral reefs in the western Atlantic
Ocean, and for people everywhere.

Walter now feels that he benefited from his terrible misfortune. “It was
a life-changing experience for me, and not entirely to the negative,”
he said.  “For one thing, I found out I wasn’t the only being in the
world.  I found out I was fragile.”

As are coral reefs everywhere.

For the full story and downloadable photos please visit http://www.globalreefexpedition.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=248&Itemid=574

About the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation
Founded by HRH Prince General Khaled bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, the
Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation was incorporated in
California as a 501(c)(3), public benefit, Private Operating Foundation
in September 2000. With its headquarters in Washington DC, the Living
Oceans Foundation is dedicated to the conservation and restoration of
oceans of the world, and champions their preservation through research,
education, and a commitment to Science Without Borders®.

For more information, visit http://www.livingoceansfoundation.org and http://www.globalreefexpedition.com.

Science Without Borders® is registered to the Foundation for financial sponsorship of marine
conservation programs and scientific research and to promote public
awareness of the need to preserve, protect and restore the world’s
oceans and aquatic resources.

SOURCE Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation

Source: PR Newswire