December 23, 2009

Conch Shells Show Telltale Signs Of Global Warming

Divers are combing the depths of ocean waters 60 miles south of the Mexican coast in search of the unique queen conch shell that may help scientists better understand the effects of global warming on the fragile aquatic ecosystem.

Researchers were attaching electronic probes to more than 50 queen conch specimens that are native to these waters. The probes will gather informational data that will help in the study of climate changes off the Yucatan Peninsula. The information they gather may be able to provide information dating back to the pre-Columbian era.

The findings will not only help map the future of global warming, but, according to lead investigator Dalila Aldana will also help the future of the conch species. The tags will monitor their eating and reproductive habits. The queen conch has had its habitat seriously altered in the past 10 to 15 years due to global warming.

The research, conducted by eight scientists and covering both fresh and salt water, will also study the variations in temperatures and how these variations are manifested in conch shells and also the impact on the viability of the mollusks. France, Mexico and Australian researchers are partaking in the seven-year study that is being financed by the Cinvestav scientific institute of Mexico and the National Center for Scientific Research of France.

The research area, covering as much as 14 hectares (roughly 35 acres), is the largest protected aquatic nature preserve on the planet. This vast ecological water system is at risk from environmental abuses introduced by man - mostly climate change. Though the queen conch is not yet endangered, it is under great duress from over-fishing for its meat as an important food source and the decorative shell as a souvenir.

Aldana states that the research "will allow us to make projections to determine the magnitude to the global warming process." Not only will the study probe living ocean mollusks, but also the remains of some specimens from pre-Hispanic times. This will give researchers a look at the fluctuations in water temperatures that occurred as long as 1500 years ago.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia