In the most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world, SeaWeb's Asia Pacific program is strengthening voices for ocean conservation by bridging the worlds of marine science, journalism, and public policy. We work to amplify and clarify the messages of local scientists and ocean experts, and to connect journalists and decision-makers to ocean issues and specialists.

We envision an Asia Pacific region where all people will act on the belief that a healthy ocean is vital to human life and a sustainable future.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

'Plunder or Protect'

Over on Caspar Henderson's Coral Bones blog, I found this:
WWF Australia is calling for the entire Coral Sea region to be declared a marine protected area. The campaigners are using economics-based arguments:
The resident population of sharks at Osprey Reef, the main dive site in the Coral Sea, is 40 animals, making each shark worth over $250,000 per year. When you compare this figure to $62.50 - the asking price for shark catch by local fisheries, it is more than evident Australian reef sharks are more valuable alive than dead.
News reports include this, this and this.
Sounds like a potential contribution to our socioeconomics panel in Alotau, no?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007



Friday, August 10, 2007

An update from Ove Hoegh-Guldberg at, following up on the bleaching reported around Okinawa. It seems that the situation is very severe.

As I blogged earlier, the reefs off Okinawa are undergoing a severe bleaching event. The latest news from researchers in the region suggest that it may be worse than previously thought:

Coral bleaching is observed in Ishigaki Is. since late July. High SST(>30C) has continued around the southwest Ryukyu archipelago this summer. SST is measured at 35 degree C at the most affected area of bleaching (shallow lagoon) in the daytime. - Takanori Sato

As a result of these high sea surface temperatures, the reefs are beginning to show signs of prolonged bleaching and subsequent mortality similar to that of the mass bleaching event in 1998:

As was quickly reported from Sato-san on 6 August at this ML, Ishigaki Is reef, the most flourished reef in Japan, is now heavily bleached. Shiraho reef known by its large distribution of Heliopora coerulea, is 60-70% bleached and some of the corals were already dead. Sea water temperature at Shirao reef increased over 33 degree centigrade during daytime, and never decreased below 30 degree centigrade even during nighttime since 21 July (measured by Tokyo Institute of Technology), and the bleaching started since 23 July.

50 to 90 % colonies of Porites lutea, Pavona frondifera, various species of Acropora, Pocillopora and Montipora aequituberculata were bleached and some of them were already dead. 70 % of Montipora digitata was bleached. Heliopora coerulea, on the other hand, was rarely bleached. Porites cylindrica was also bleached, but in an area near Heliopora distribution was not bleached.

The species difference was almost the same as that at 1998 bleaching event, except that Porites lutea, which was bleached but recovered its symbiotic algae after one month bleaching was already dead for the colonies along the shoreside. The situation seems to be more severe than that in 1998. Since 5 August, two typhoons passed near Ryukyu Islands, and I hope they reduced seawater temperature to stop the bleaching. -Hajime Kayanne

Mark Eakin from NOAA has been monitoring this for the past few months, and suggests that this bleaching event is likely to impact reefs across the region:

Warming has been seen in the region from the northern Philippines to southern Japan and Korea. NOAA Coral Reef Watch data reveal sea surface temperatures of 30-32 degrees and Coral Bleaching HotSpots reveal water temperatures of up to 2.9 degrees above the maximum monthly mean. The warmest thermal stress accumulation is currently found in the region south of Taipei and northwest of Luzon. Our Degree Heating Week product reveals that the waters off the Luzon coast now exceed 10 degree weeks of thermal stress. Reports, including two on the Coral List, indicate that bleaching is already underway at Kenting National Park, Taiwan, Ishigaki Island, Japan, and the Philippines.

Another large region of heat stress can be seen in the region east of the Mariana Islands and northwest of Wake Island. The SST anomalies and HotSpots are not as high in this region and are currently of less threat to coral reef systems.

More reports are coming in from around the region:

Starting from mid-late June, high SST (30C) is observed around the area of Southeast Taiwan, northern Philippine, and northern South China. Coral bleaching starts to develop in the mid July along the fringing reef at the Kenting National Park, Taiwan. Corals at shallow water (<5m)>

The coral bleaching can be ranked as the most serious bleaching event in the Kenting reef sincr the mass coral bleaching in 1998-1999. - Allen Chen

Thursday, August 2, 2007


Thursday, Aug. 2, 2007

ISHIGAKI, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) About 50 environment-minded residents of the Shiraho district on Ishigaki Island — whose livelihoods depend on marine life — have taken the initiative in trying to save endangered coral reefs through their own conservation measures.
"The coral reef is rapidly becoming emaciated. The number of species caught is also on the decline," said Tsunekazu Yamashiro, 75, leader of the Shiraho Sakana-Waku Umi (Sea Rich in Fish) Council. "Many marine animals depend on coral."
The council has drawn up a set of guidelines for local tourism companies on use of the sea, to be followed by similar rules for fishermen and researchers. The group also sponsors an event to teach local children the traditional fishing method called "kachi," in which fish are caught when they come within a rock fence set up in a reef's shallow waters to eat seaweed.
"The children were delighted with the traps. . . . They enjoy catching fish there and the rock fences will remind them of the richness of the sea," Yamashiro said. The son of a farming couple, Yamashiro would dive for moray eels and large white-spotted parrot fish in his youth, using a set of wooden goggles he made himself and wearing only a loincloth.
Back then, everyone thought the catch was inexhaustible. But since the rapid development of the subtropical island following Okinawa's return to Japan in 1972, locals have watched the marine paradise come under threat. A spate of construction projects and an abrupt increase in the population of crown-of-thorns starfish had heavily damaged the coral reef habitat.
When it was announced in 1979 that an airport — aimed at increasing the number of tourists — was to be built on an artificial island off the Shiraho district, local residents and environmentalists across the nation were outraged. "We cannot allow the authorities to reclaim land from this sea," Nae Keinou, 93, said. "No matter what anybody says, I'm 100 percent against the plan."
Keinou said she was taught the importance of the sea habitat by her parents. Then the sea saved her family, who faced hunger due to poor crops during World War II, with marine products such as seaweed, shellfish and small crabs. Her husband was bedridden and there were children to feed. "We were able to live without a lot of money. The first wealth is the sea. We cannot thank the sea enough, as our ancestors well knew" she said.
News reports showed Keinou crying out in anger and excitement and clasping the legs of one of the riot policemen sent to line the seashore where prefectural officials were to conduct a preparatory survey. The opposition movement lasted more than a decade.
In 1988, the General Assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources unanimously adopted a resolution saying the airport construction would cause irreparable damage to the coral habitat and urged the central government to take protective measures. The airport site was changed in 2000 to another location on the island, only 2 km north of the sea area.
Shigekazu Mezaki, 61, a professor of environment policies at Nanzan University in Nagoya, went diving in the area for the first time in 1986 when he was making a map of coral reefs in Okinawa. "This sea is a miracle!" he thought as he saw coral reef like a dense forest and large schools of colorful fish.
Studies and surveys by Mezaki and other scholars at private bodies have determined that the finger-tree or milk-bush coral communities are the largest and oldest in the Northern Hemisphere. The independent habitat retained its original form because its bottom topography kept the sea protected from foreign invaders.
"The coral reef off Shiraho is particularly splendid," an official at the Environment Ministry said. "We plan to preserve it by designating the area a national park." However, the designation, planned for this month, guarantees no protection of the coral reef.
Although the site has been moved, the airport's impact on the coral habitat is an unknown. Some say the construction could contaminate groundwater. "There is no way to save coral reef except by terminating development of nearby land and by not tampering with nature," Mezaki said.
The International Coral Reef Initiative, made up of 40 organizations from 44 countries, is to launch a worldwide campaign next year for protection and conservation of coral reefs, which are also threatened by global warming.
"The higher sea temperature will enhance the risk of coral disease," said Hideyuki Yamashiro, 50, a professor of coral reef habitat at Okinawa National College of Technology. "Coral is a sensor of deterioration in the sea environment."
Coral reef accounts for only 0.2 percent of the world's sea area but one-fourth of marine fish depend on coral habitats.
Endozoic algae, which live within coral bodies and provide coral with nutrition by photonic synthesis, are disappearing due to an increase in sea temperatures, making the coral "white," or dead, a phenomenon that has been notable worldwide in the past 10 years.
Along with "white syndrome," about 20 kinds of diseases affecting coral have been discovered. To combat the global threat, the Ishigaki islanders are doing their part to "think globally, act locally."

Monday, July 23, 2007


James Randerson, science correspondent
Saturday July 21, 2007
The Guardian

A mystery disease is destroying rare coral populations around the UK coastline, according to marine biologists. The disease, which has similarities with infections that have decimated tropical reefs, is the first ever identified in cold water corals and the first to be seen in British waters.

The researchers have established in laboratory experiments that it is caused by a bacterial infection which seems to be prompted by increases in water temperature. That has fuelled speculation that the recent spate of outbreaks is due to rises in the sea temperature around Britain due to climate change.

"Many people know about tropical coral reefs, but are completely unaware that British waters contain a huge diversity of life, including these corals," said Jason Hall-Spencer at the University of Plymouth. "Diseases increasingly affect tropical corals and this is the first record of disease affecting cold-water corals."

He first heard reports of the disease occurring around Lundy island, off north Devon, from divers in 2002. They were seeing pink sea fans (a coral species, Eunicella verrucosa, that forms colonies up to 80cm high and a metre across), that had lost their colour and were covered in other marine organisms such as barnacles and seaweed. "When you look more carefully while you are diving you see the pink tissue on the outside has started to slough away, exposing the hard skeleton," he said. Between 2003 and 2006 he and his team surveyed 13 sites known to biologists as strongholds for the species. His team found evidence of the disease at seven of the sites. Damage to the pink sea fan is significant because it is already listed as "vulnerable" by the international conservation Red List. It is also one of the few marine species protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

"They are special because ... they create habitats for other living organisms. They form quite dense communities, a bit like a forest, and that provides hiding places and feeding places for lots of other different organisms," said Brian Zimmerman, a coral expert at London Zoo who is not part of Dr Hall-Spencer's group. The team, which reports its work in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms this month, also identified the bacteria that cause the coral's demise. On their own the bacteria are harmless, but as the water temperature is increased the corals become more vulnerable to attack.

Monday, July 16, 2007


By Juliet Eilperin

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 15, 2007; P04

The reef looked small from the boat, but once I plunged into the Caribbean I found myself gazing at what looked like a vast and intricate community, which was oddly dead and alive at the same time. In one section of Glover's Reef, which surrounds an atoll 55 miles off the coast of Belize, delicate spiny corals jutted out fiercely, surrounded by vibrant green and silver fish; in other places, only ghostly white corals remained, a testament to how warmer water temperatures had wreaked ha-voc deep beneath the sea.

When people think of habitats collapsing from rising global temperatures, they tend to think of frigid climes where polar bears have been frolicking on snow and ice for centuries. Think again. Coral reefs rank as one of the ecosystems most vulnerable to climate change: Recent scientific studies suggest global warming has already destroyed 20 percent of the world's reefs, and an additional 50 percent are in danger of disappearing.

Two aspects of global warming -- hotter and more acidic oceans -- threaten corals the most. In seven tropical regions where most coral reefs occur, waters have warmed between 1.3 and 3 degrees in the past century. Though that might not seem like much, a seawater temperature rise of 1.8 to 3.6 degrees above the summer maximum can trigger bleaching on many reefs. When bleaching occurs, the single-celled algae that live in symbiosis with a coral are expelled, and if the coral does not take up other algae within a certain period of time, it dies. Scientists call this bleaching because the living tissue of a coral is white; if the algae leaves, the coral loses its color because it no longer has a living creature inside. At that point the white limestone skeleton shows through.

At the same time that seawater temperatures are on the rise, absorption of human-generated carbon emissions has altered the oceans' pH level, making it more difficult for reefs and other marine organisms to construct their calcium skeletons.

"Climate change has and will continue to permanently alter the ecology of a large number of reefs throughout the tropics, particularly in the Caribbean," said Tim McClanahan, a senior conservation zoologist for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who has studied reefs from Belize to Kenya. "But there still are -- and will be -- some reefs in good condition for diving, particularly if we can manage them well in terms of fishing and other human uses."

Since coral reefs are scattered around the world and exist underwater, it's hard for researchers to say precisely how they're doing. In addition, some reefs host the kind of algae that can tolerate higher temperatures, which means those corals can survive even when the oceans get warmer. But a 2004 study of coral reefs worldwide estimated that since the 1950s, 20 percent of them have been destroyed and show no prospect of recovery; 24 percent of reefs are under imminent threat of collapse; and another 26 percent face collapse over the long term.

Protected areas like Australia's Great Barrier Reef do not face the same fishing pressure as an unprotected reef, for example, but even that reef could suffer from hotter and more-acidic seas. (Fishing poses a serious risk to reefs because it tends to damage the coral structures themselves, and because it deprives the reef of the fish and plant life that maintain the ecosystem's balance.) And just as scientists are seeking ways to preserve reefs in the face of these environmental pressures, travelers are exploring these habitats while they still exist.

A Stressed Environment

Few ecosystems exemplify this phenomenon better than Glover's Reef, part of a World Heritage Site and marine reserve. A patchwork of more than 800 reefs covering 90 square miles, the site is home to both a WCS marine research station and a smattering of small resorts. Although it's not the most luxurious place to vacation, it provides a way to witness both how climate change has damaged coral reefs and how they have resisted it.

With so many "patch reefs" scattered throughout the area, each amounts to a world of its own. In May I saw for myself, diving and snorkeling with shark scientist Ellen Pikitch, who directs Miami's Pew Institute for Ocean Science; WCS senior conservationist Archie Carr III; and Carr's 20-year-old daughter, Jenny. I was researching an upcoming book about sharks and wanted to see how these ancient creatures were faring in an environment that's under stress.

For an hour we dove around a reef that stretched for what seemed like a dozen yards. Despite its small size, the reef serves as home to an array of corals and fish, including a silvery barracuda, a gray nurse shark and parrotfish whose glowing colors indicate each one's sex and stage of development.

Two severe bleaching events in the 1990s, when water temperature spiked suddenly, have taken their toll on Glover's Reef, however. I swam past bleached reefs that resembled ghost towns, providing no sustenance to the tropical fish. Corals, whose limestone skeletons make them resemble rocks more than living organisms, help shelter young fish and provide a home for the plant life many fish need to survive.

Some types of coral -- such as staghorn, with its long, spindly branches -- are making a comeback at Glover's Reef. Scientists don't exactly know why, except that they are increasingly finding that some species are more resilient than others.

"That's what we look for here, signs of recovery," said Carr, who now serves as the research station's interim manager. Carr said that he and other scientists have been stunned by how global warming has affected the local habitat. "More than half of the corals of the Belize barrier reef are bleached white," Carr said. "They appear lifeless. Will they recover? It is a deeply troubling question, because it highlights the scary notion that we do not know what will happen next. Coral bleaching is linked to global warming. We don't know the consequences of this phenomenon. We humans now live on a strange planet whose atmosphere and ecology we no longer comprehend."

Small Sacrifices to Make

Belize, home to the second-longest coral reef in the world, ranks as a popular diving and snorkeling destination. Most marine-oriented tourists visit Ambergris Caye, which boasts larger reefs, many more hotels and a humming night life. But it has not escaped the damage that has affected Glover's Reef and other parts of the Caribbean.

Glover's Reef does not fit the definition of a mainstream tourist attraction. The atoll comprises several islands called cayes (pronounced "keys"). Southwest Caye features Isla Marisol, a small resort, and Island Expeditions, a kayaking operation. Long Caye has Off the Wall Dive Center and Resort, and Slickrock Adventures, a kayak and snorkeling tour operation that has private island beach cabanas as a base camp. Northeast Caye boasts Glover's Atoll Resort, a rustic retreat with thatched huts, composting toilets and no electricity. The resort includes a dormitory with two rooms boasting four beds each, as well as a camping site and private huts. (The WCS marine research station, where I stayed, lies on Middle Caye, but only scientists can stay there.)

The resorts vary in style, though none is particularly glamorous. Isla Marisol is a slightly upscale, pleasant resort run by Eddie Usher, a Belizean whose family owns the island. A charming bar overlooks the ocean, and there are two-person air-conditioned cabanas as well as a couple of secluded four-person cabanas with ocean views. Usher also runs dive tours to see whale sharks and other marine life, and he allows Island Expeditions to launch from his resort.

If you're affiliated with a scientific organization and pursuing research, the WCS station is the area's best bargain. Like Glover's Island Resort, the research station lacks indoor plumbing, air conditioning and hot showers. Aside from that it's fabulous: The island offers gorgeous views of the ocean, and taking a dip simply involves walking down to the dock and jumping into the wonderfully warm water. (There is one downside: Sharks swim right up to the dock, so you need to stay alert while swimming.) At night the scientists and I sat out on the balcony of our building and watched the full moon shine on the sea, a view that rivaled the scenery of any elegant beach resort.

If you're willing to sacrifice a little bit of comfort, Glover's Reef offers a way to see firsthand a secluded reef that is on the front lines of climate change. And since it's unclear how this ecosystem will fare in the rising temperatures the globe is likely to experience in years to come, you might want to get down there while it lasts.

Juliet Eilperin, The Post's national environmental reporter, is writing a book on sharks, to be published in spring 2009 by Knopf-Pantheon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Fishy logic

From our friend Nick Atkinson, who runs the excellent blog

Fish fills in the gaps about unknown rivals

Astatotilapia burtoni

Published in: Natural History Magazine
Reference: Nature
DOI: 10.1038/nature05511

“Pick your battles wisely” is sound advice that people forget all too often. We could learn a thing or two from Astatotilapia burtoni, a little cichlid fish from the shallows of Lake Tanganyika in central Africa.

New research shows that A. burtoni possesses surprising powers of logic—for a fish. The males can deduce the pecking order among their rivals after watching only some of them fight each other.

Logan Grosenick and his adviser, Russell D. Fernald, a biologist at Stanford University, along with a colleague, placed “bystander” fish in the central part of an experimental tank. There the bystanders could watch staged, one-on-one fights between five rival males in compartments around the tank’s perimeter. To establish a dominance hierarchy among the rivals, the investigators predetermined the outcome of each fight by handicapping one contender—removing it from the water to stress it, then placing it in the other’s home tank. Only closely ranked rivals were pitted against one another. Thus the bystanders watched fish A fight and beat fish B, B fight and beat C, and so on through fish E.

After exposing eight bystanders to either two or four of the fights each day for eleven days, the investigators tested whether the bystanders had been able to infer the complete hierarchy despite the gaps in their knowledge. Each bystander was shown two males that had never fought—A and E or B and D—in compartments on opposite sides of the tank. In nearly all the trials, the bystander clearly identified the lower ranking of the two males, visiting him first and spending longer near him (a sensible preference, considering a bystander’s improved odds at beating a low-ranking rival). That cognitive leap is roughly equivalent to the reasoning abilities children attain around age four. Not bad for a fish!

Coral decision reversed: we're not giving up

At this point, you all know that, following a massive lobbying effort by our opponents, the delegates to the CITES convention voted, at the last minute and by secret ballot, to reverse the decision to list Corallium on Appendix II.

I want to emphasize that this only redoubles our commitment to the important work ahead of us on the Too Precious to Wear campaign. We have a lot to be proud of that came out of the conference, particularly in the relationships we built and the way we have connected our name to the issue.

If you did not see it before, here is the press release we issued immediately after the decision:
Conservationists decry move as politically motivated; urge industry and range states to act

(June 15, 2007 - The Hague, The Netherlands) Scientists, conservationists and many government officials expressed outrage when a proposal to protect precious red corals from international trade was reversed today. Delegates voted by secret ballot to overturn their initial decision to list these overfished species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), following a massive lobbying effort by the coral industry and some exporting countries. The proposal initially passed on Wednesday, with 62 countries voting in support of the listing.

Scientists have long called for trade protection for red corals (scientific name: Corallium / AKA: pink corals), with over 2,000 other coral species listed under CITES. Red corals are among the world’s most valuable wildlife commodities, with a finished necklace retailing for up to $20,000. But destructive fishing methods and over-harvesting means global red coral catches have plummeted by 90 percent in the past two decades. The move to reopen the red coral debate on Friday in a plenary session was instigated by Tunisia and seconded by Algeria and Morocco, all coral exporting countries. A secret ballot was requested and despite the proposal receiving support from the majority of delegates present, it fell short of the required two-thirds majority needed for a CITES listing.

Dr. Andy Bruckner, a NOAA scientist and the author of the U.S. proposal to list Corallium, said the outcome was shocking: “Over the past twenty years, overfishing of red coral has put these animals at great risk. A CITES listing would have helped safeguard the species as well as the coral industry. Effective conservation for red coral now requires cooperation by range states to implement appropriate domestic measures, to ensure the survival of these species."

The U.S. responded to the reopening of the debate, saying they had held extensive conversations with red coral-producing nations to construct a proposal that would advance the conservation of the species.

The unusual reversal, which took place after the conference was scheduled to have ended, means the trade in red corals will be allowed to continue unchecked, threatening the species’ survival. There was significant support for the listing from the United States (the largest red coral importer in the world), the European Union (a major exporter), Mexico, the CITES Secretariat, as well as numerous NGOs, including SeaWeb, TRAFFIC, WWF and the Pew Institute for Ocean Science.

Opponents to the red coral proposal, such as Japan, a major red coral trading nation, and industry group ASSOCORAL, referred to an FAO assessment that did not support the listing. SeaWeb stated to delegates at the conference that FAO’s analysis was flawed because it only took into account the remaining number of coral colonies but not their size, which is a more accurate measure of population health.

Dawn M. Martin, president of SeaWeb, the international NGO that originally petitioned the United States to propose the listing, said, “Never before have our oceans been in such peril, and this reversal by CITES delegates, which leaves red corals unprotected, is deplorable. Red corals are threatened by trade and fully meet the criteria for CITES protection. It is now up to consumers and the industry to ensure that we do not love red coral to death. Conscientious jewelers like Tiffany & Co. have already removed precious corals from their product lines, and we urge others to do the same.”

The value of the red coral trade is significant. In 1999 alone, the Italian town of Torre del Greco reported red coral profits of $174 million. The United States, the world’s largest documented importer of red corals, and conservationists said the protection afforded by a CITES listing would have safeguarded the industry for future generations by ensuring trade is non-detrimental to the survival of the species.

Science shows that commercial fishing has decreased the genetic diversity within and among populations, reduced colony densities, and shifted size and age structure to small, immature colonies that are worthless to the red coral trade and unproductive in the ecosystem. In the Pacific Ocean, the destructive fishing method of bottom trawling for red coral is the marine equivalent of clear cutting old-growth forests. There is evidence that coral populations never fully recover after being bottom-trawled, and entire beds of red coral have been depleted within five years of discovery.

Fernanda Kellogg, senior vice president of Tiffany & Co. and president of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, said, “With regard to coral, we believe that coral harvesting as currently practiced is not sustainable and threatens marine ecosystems. We will not use this precious material in our jewelry until harvesting methods have been adopted that ensure the sustainability of coral reefs.”

Martin added, “We will continue to work tirelessly to get these threatened animals the protection they deserve. It is unconscionable when politics and profit stand in the way of science and conservation. SeaWeb’s Too Precious To Wear campaign will continue to advance coral conservation and we will urge the international community to protect these species before it is too late.”

For more information, visit Too Precious to Wear is a program of SeaWeb to create a demand for coral conservation.
I am happy to talk about this more and answer any questions you may have. We are all disappointed, but not surprised. We are fighting big industry interests, but we are going to make a difference, you'll see!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thanks to Rick MacPherson!

Just saw this great post over at the Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice and Sunsets blog!

There's some reason to celebrate today. This week, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES (pronounced sight-eeze), is meeting in The Hague. CITES is an international agreement between governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The reason I'm feeling celebratory is that red and pink corals (genus Corallium) received international trade protection today after 62 countries voted to list these over-harvested species under the CITES Appendix II listing.

CITES can confer listing of species as either Appendix I, II, or III. Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances (usually having something to do with research and conservation). So if you were hoping to receive a Spiny Echidna, Honey Badger, or Binturong for your birthday, forget it... they are all Appendix I listed. Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid depletion of the species or elevation to Appendix I status. Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade.

The U.S. government had originally proposed that CITES list red and pink coral species on Appendix II of CITES. This newly approved designation will require that any government that exports or imports items made of red and pink coral demonstrate that trade in these species does not adversely impact its future survival.

Consumer items made from red and pink coral are very popular right now in the form of jewelry and decorative items. With a finished necklace retailing for up to $20,000 US, precious red corals are among the world’s most valuable wildlife commodities. Since 2005 there has been a worldwide resurgence in coral popularity, and it is in high demand for jewelry, art and curios, particularly in Europe and Asia. An Appendix II listing will be a strong step to improve the monitoring and tracking of red coral trade. There are also interactions between this potential ruling and bottom trawling regulations.

To help spread the word and build public awareness of this issue, SeaWeb has launched a fantastic new campaign, Too Precious To Wear. The beautiful logo (pictured at the top of this post) is specifically designed to capture the eye and attention of consumers. Beyond just designing a pretty logo, SeaWeb has secured the support and commitment of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation. Tiffany & Co. (begin humming Moon River here) is arguably the world's preeminent retailer of exquisitely designed, high-value jewelry. Recognizing the growing demand for jewelry materials sourced sustainably and ethically (think Blood Diamond) from the land and ocean (diamonds, pearls, coral, shell, etc.) the company established an environmental policy. Their environmental statement reads that,
It is from nature that Tiffany & Co. draws the raw materials and inspiration that have shaped the company's design heritage. The mission of the foundation's Environment Program is to support organizations dedicated to the conservation of natural resources in the areas of responsible mining, coral reef conservation, and land protection.
Way to go SeaWeb, and Tiffany & Co. Foundation! It's important to see big corporations like Tiffany not take the path of greenwashing. They're partnering with marine conservation organizations and investing to help preserve an ecosystem on which their company depends. When so much of the ocean environmental news is grim, the occasional good news like this is incredibly welcome. posted by Rick MacPherson at 12:23 PM

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Important New Buoy Launched

NSF today announced that the first buoy to monitor ocean acidification has been launched in the Gulf of Alaska. If you've forgotten why the threat of ocean acidification keeps coral reef conservationists awake at night, refresh your memory here.
Anchored in water nearly 5,000 meters deep, the buoy (pictured above) began to transmit data via satellite once it hit the water. I'm guessing the oceanographers pictured atop the buoy are not permanently attached to the rig, but you never know with physical oceanographers. The instrument package attached to the buoy will, however, measure the air-sea exchange of carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen gas in addition to the pH of the surface waters. Information from this buoy will lead to a better understanding of ocean acidification--a growing threat to the world's oceans--by helping scientists determine exactly how physical and biological processes affect carbon dioxide in the north Pacific Ocean, said Fred Lipschultz, program director in NSF's division of ocean sciences.

Initial Corallium vote - YES!

BREAKING NEWS: we have just witnessed the initial vote on the amended proposal to list Corallium on Appendix II of CITES and it passed!
The vote count was 62 in favor, 28 against, 13 abstentions. That represents 68.89% (66% is the cut-off for the 2/3 majority).
This will need to be confirmed in the plenary session tomorrow/Friday but is tremendously good news!

UN-Nippon Fellowship Programme

Please read, consider, and forward to your contacts, thank you!

The main objective of the Fellowship Programme is to provide advanced education and training in the field of ocean affairs and the law of the sea, and related disciplines including marine science, to government officials and other mid-level professionals from developing States. Thus, this programme provides a unique and fully funded opportunity for qualified individuals working within the RSPs to undertake research/studies in fields of direct relevance to RSPs.
Successful candidates will undertake their research/studies in two back-to-back phases: the first, lasting six months, with a participating academic host institution; and the second, lasting three months, with the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS), UN
Office of Legal Affairs, or an appropriate participating host institution. The Fellowship Selection Committee is currently scheduled to convene in early October 2007 to award ten fellowships for the 2008-2009 session, and successful candidates will be expected to begin
their placements early in 2008.
The fellowship application deadline is 15 August 2007, and candidates should forward their applications directly to DOALOS. Additional information, including the application package, detailed application instructions, and a list of participating host institutions, is
available on the Fellowship web-site:

Fellowship Programme Advisor Contact Information:
Mr. Francois N. Bailet, Ph.D.
Programme Advisor
Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea
Office of Legal Affairs, DC2-0426
United Nations
New York, NY 10017, USA
Tel.: 917-367-5186
Fax: 212-963-5847
Fellowship URL:

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pacific Island Conference for Nature Conservation and Protected Areas

Just to make sure we are all up to speed and have specific dates:
The 8th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas, will take place in Alotau, PNG from 22 – 26 October 2007. The Conference’s theme, ‘Conservation serving communities, in a rapidly changing world’ highlights the inextricable link between Pacific islanders and the natural environment, and the importance of strengthening networks in the climate of global change.
I have stored the informational brochure and conference poster on our Google Groups site, and you can access them by following the embedded link above.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

First big Corallium press hit - version 2

U.S. pushes to protect red coral species

Associated Press Writer

The U.S. is leading a push to protect a type of red coral that grows deep in the world's oceans and seas, putting it at odds with Italian fishermen who have harvested the species for generations to make artwork and jewelry.

Under the U.S. proposal up for debate at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species meeting in The Hague, trade in several species of red coral, or corallium, would be regulated for the first time to ensure harvesting and global sales do not threaten their survival.

The proposal is expected to come up for a vote next week, worrying the fishermen and craftsmen of Torre del Greco, who harvest the coral for their livelihood in the town in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.

"We started 800 years ago and we want to continue," said Ciro Condito of Assocoral, a lobbying group representing the craftsmen in the Mediterranean town. "We are not an industry; this is our tradition, our culture. Coral is our life."

The U.S. is the world's biggest market for corallium products, importing more than 26 million pieces from 2001 to 2006, according to the Washington-based environmental group SeaWeb.

The value of corallium is boosted by the fact it is difficult to gather because it grows as deep as 3,280 feet. It is also rare because it grows so slowly - in some cases, just 0.06 inches or less per year - and takes up to seven years to reach maturity, with low reproduction rates.

Raw coral can sell for about $400 per pound at auction, and artworks or pieces of jewelry can cost anywhere from $20 to $20,000, depending on the size and quality.

One place corallium jewelry is no longer sold is Tiffany and Co.

"Until we are convinced that coral harvesting is sustainable and does not threaten marine ecosystems, we believe this cautionary principle should continue to apply," the company says on its Web site.

In some parts of the world, corallium is still harvested using trawl nets dragged along the seabed - a practice that devastates the coral and threatens other marine wildlife that use coral colonies as a place to feed, mate and escape predators.

"It is like clear-cutting a forest - it pulls everything up, there's a lot of loss and you remove the large colonies, the small colonies and cause a lot of damage to the habitat," said Andy Bruckner of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In the Mediterranean, trawl fishing has been replaced by scuba-diving harvesters and some countries have imposed quotas and minimum size limits. But the coral is still struggling.

"We're afraid that if things continue the way they are it could lead to species being depleted from large areas," said Bruckner.

First big Corallium press hit - version 1

Wildlife conference to mull protection for deep sea coral
By Mike Corder THE HAGUE, Netherlands, AP

Like miniature forests of richly colored trees, red coral decorates pockets of the world's seas and oceans from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. It also adorns the necks and arms of the rich and fashion conscious.

The trade in the slow-growing, deep sea coral is now so widespread that there are fears for its survival.

The United States is leading a push to have the coral, whose scientific name is corallium, protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a global conservation body meeting until June 15 in The Hague. The U.S. proposal will be debated and put to a vote next week.

That has worried the fishers and craftsmen of Torre del Greco, a town in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius volcano on Italy's Mediterranean coast, who have harvested the coral for generations and turned it into art works and jewelry. "We started 800 years ago and we want to continue," said Ciro Condito of Assocoral, a lobby group representing the craftsmen. "We are not an industry; this is our tradition, our culture. Coral is our life."

Under the U.S. proposal up for debate at the CITES meeting, trade in several species of corallium would be regulated for the first time to ensure harvesting and global sales do not threaten their survival.

In some parts of the world, corallium is still harvested using trawl nets dragged along the seabed -- a practice that devastates the coral.

"It is like clear cutting a forest -- it pulls everything up, there's a lot of loss and you remove the large colonies, the small colonies and cause a lot of damage to the habitat," said Andy Bruckner of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That affects not just the coral but also other marine wildlife that use coral colonies as a place to feed, mate and hide from predators.

The United States, the world's biggest market for corallium products, imported more than 26 million pieces from 2001-2006, says environmental group SeaWeb. The group has launched a campaign, "Too Precious to Wear," aimed at raising awareness of the coral's vulnerability.

Its value is boosted by its rarity and the fact that it is hard to gather because it grows as deep as 1,000 meters (3,280 feet). Raw coral can sell for US$900 (euro670) per kilogram at auction and finished works of art or pieces of jewelry can cost anywhere from US$20 (euro15) to US$20,000 (euro15,000) depending on their size and quality.

It is also rare because it grows so slowly -- in some cases just 1.5 millimeters (0.06 inches) or less per year -- takes up to seven years to reach maturity and has low reproduction rates.

One place you can no longer buy corallium jewelry is a Tiffany and Co. store. The high-end U.S. jeweler no longer sells any coral products.

"Until we are convinced that coral harvesting is sustainable and does not threaten marine ecosystems, we believe this cautionary principle should continue to apply," the company says on its Web site.

In the Mediterranean, trawl fishing has been replaced by scuba divers harvesting the coral and some countries have imposed quotas and minimum size limits. But the coral is still struggling.

"We're afraid that if things continue the way they are it could lead to species being depleted from large areas," said Bruckner.

Coral jewelry was popular in the 1980s and went out of fashion in the 1990s. But it is now making a comeback, increasing pressure on stocks.

"I love coral pieces and jewelry, it's beautiful," said Elizabeth Neeley of SeaWeb. "But the unfortunate reality is that what's going on underneath the sea is not."

Friday, June 8, 2007

Congratulations to Vasemaca!!

I would like to proudly brag about Va for a moment.

In April and May, there were thirty-five ocean stories in the Fijian print and broadcast outlets. SeaWeb can take credit for pitching/assisting with TWENTY-TWO of those.

This is fantastic, and I really want to highlight the achievement.

Story framing

Thought this was a good example of the kind of "side story" we can encourage reporters on our fieldtrips to pursue - not in content, necessarily, but in the way that this reporter (who I cannot imagine flew out to the Cocos Keeling Islands just for this story) was able to tell this personal story. It is the #3 most emailed story today on the BBC site.

I can imagine this type of family/personality-focused stories about community leaders, chiefs, and conservationists in Fiji and PNG as being equally or even more interesting.

The man who lost a 'coral kingdom'
By Nick Squires
BBC News, Cocos Keeling Islands

For many, living on an tropical island away from the cares of everyday life is the ultimate dream. But, for a family of British merchant adventures, the dream became a reality when they ran a group of islands as a private fiefdom for 150 years.

Cocos beach (Photo: Nick Squires)
Until John Clunies-Ross arrived, the island was uninhabited
From the air, they look like a chain of pearls wrapped around a giant opal. Twenty six tiny islands enclosing a turquoise and jade lagoon. Stepping out of the aircraft, I was enveloped by tropical heat. Palm trees rustled in the breeze and there was the distant sound of surf crashing on a reef. The locals were either barefoot or in flip-flops.
Adrift in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Cocos Keeling Islands lie halfway between Australia and Sri Lanka. Home to just 500 people, they are an Australian territory, but on many maps of the continent, they do not even feature.
Which is a shame, because the islands have an intriguing history.

Royal connections
They were uninhabited until the 1820s, when a small settlement was established by a Scottish adventurer named John Clunies-Ross.

Oceania House (Photo: Nick Squires)
Oceania House was the original home of the Clunie-Rosses
He was originally from Shetland and must have delighted in exchanging his frigid homeland for these balmy, sun-kissed isles. He set about planting hundreds of coconut palms and brought in Malay workers to harvest the nuts.
Successive generations of Clunies-Rosses built up a business empire based on copra, the dried flesh of coconuts traded for its oil. Their tenure over their exotic adopted home was confirmed in 1886, when Queen Victoria granted them possession of the islands in perpetuity.
They styled themselves the "kings" of the Cocos.
Remarkably, their rule lasted right up until 1978, when the last "king", also called John Clunies-Ross, was forced to sell the islands to Australia for £2.5m ($4.75m).
He had come under pressure from the Australian Government and its trades unions, as well as the United Nations, none of whom was too enamoured by his feudal regime.

'A dagger in his belt'
The Clunies-Ross family lived in a grand colonial mansion which still stands to this day. To reach Oceania House, I took a ferry from West Island across the lagoon to Home Island, the only other inhabited scrap of land in the territory.
Arriving was like suddenly stepping into south-east Asia.

Opinion among the Malays today is divided as to whether the Clunies-Rosses were exploitative colonialists or benevolent father figures
The island is home to 350 ethnic Malays, the descendants of the original plantation workers. Women wear headscarves, street names are in Malay and there are several mosques, all of which makes Oceania House all the more incongruous. It has the look and feel of a Scottish country estate.
Wandering through the overgrown gardens, I came across a stone Celtic cross inscribed with the names of the Clunies-Ross ancestors.
John Clunies-Ross used to stride around his tiny coral kingdom barefoot, a dagger tucked into his trouser belt. He paid his Malay workers in Cocos rupees, a currency he minted himself and which could only be redeemed at the company store.

Islander Cree bin Haig (Photo: Nick Squires)
Islander Cree bin Haig remembers life in the 'kingdom'
Workers who wanted to leave the islands were told they could never return. Despite such strictures, opinion among the Malays today is divided as to whether the Clunies-Rosses were exploitative colonialists or benevolent father figures.
Wages were low, but water, electricity and schooling were free. Sixty-seven-year-old Cree bin Haig worked as a boatman back in the old days: "Mr Clunies-Ross was a good man," he told me, throwing scraps to the chickens in his backyard. "Although we have better houses and food now, the Australian Government doesn't let us shoot birds and hunt turtles like the family allowed us to."
After being forced to sell his beloved islands, John Clunies-Ross eventually went bankrupt through a failed shipping line.
Now approaching 80, he lives in suburban obscurity in Perth, in Western Australia. But his son, Johnny Clunies-Ross, still calls the islands home.

'Modest living'
Back on West Island, it did not take long for me to track him down. He and his four siblings grew up amid the grandeur of Oceania House, but he now lives in a bungalow overlooking the airstrip.

Johnny Clunies-Ross (Photo: Nick Squires)
Even in the old man's time, it had become anachronistic. It had to change
Johnny Clunies-Ross
Parked outside was a battered jeep riddled with rust. In place of his father's immaculate white shirts and pressed trousers, he was in a faded T-shirt and shorts.
Had his family's reign not come to an end, he would now be the sixth "king" of the Cocos. So, is he disappointed?
"I was upset at the time," he admitted with a shrug.
"I was 21 and I'd been brought up to do the job. But even in the old man's time, it had become anachronistic. It had to change."
Where his forbears made a fortune from coconuts, Johnny is now forging a more modest living from another island resource, giant clams.
He breeds them in tanks and sells them to the aquarium trade in Europe and the US. It is an unusual line of work, but one which enables Johnny to remain on the islands his family has inhabited since 1827.
The man who would have been "king" seems content with his lot. On my last evening I met him again in the islands' only watering hole, the Cocos Club. He was still in shorts and a T-shirt, drinking a beer, chatting with friends.
An ordinary bloke, with an extraordinary past, in one of the most beautiful and unspoilt places in the world.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

COMPASS-promoted paper continues to make people think...

I ran across the following in a blog post this morning. I found it to be somewhat amusing, somewhat provocative, and an interesting example of the intersection of blogging and conservation science.
Last November in the journal Science, a team of researchers made quite an international stir by documenting the importance of biological diversity in the oceans and linked it to the long term sustainability of fisheries. The paper made front page news in numerous news outlets worldwide and was even picked-up by CNN and national and local news. Interestingly, most of the media attention skipped-over the core message of the paper, that healthy fisheries are a byproduct (or ecosystem service) of robust ocean biodiversity. Instead, media reports chose to focus on the articles chilling prediction that if current fishing trends continue, most of the world’s fisheries could be headed for collapse by mid-century.

After the chill came the heated response from the research community. Collapse? What collapse? Let's be certain we all understand what collapse means. Don't you mean reduced, not collapsed? Or depleted. Depleted is a more accurate word, right? And what fish stock will collapse? Surely not all! Oh, and what's the cause? We have to completely understand the cause before we should sound so alarmist! It all made my head hurt. Meanwhile, what is apparent to the lay observer––fish catches continue to shrink, market fish get smaller, and unsustainable fishing practices continue––remains "anecdotal" therefore "unimportant" to the research community.
This week, a follow-up article by the same group of researchers was published in Science to address the backlash. Emmett Duffy, Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science and co-author of the original paper and this week's response, succinctly summarized the criticism on his blog, The Natural Patriot,
In a nutshell (or dare I say, in a clamshell), the criticisms raised do not invalidate the main conclusions of the original analysis by [the original paper]. Fish stocks have declined worldwide over the last few decades, as widely recognized and documented not only in our paper but by the comprehensive assessment of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. What is new is our documentation that biodiversity is critical to maintaining the normal functioning of marine ecosystems, and the goods and services that they provide to human society, including the productivity and resilience of global fishery catches.
For the full posting, see Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets: Time To Fish Or Cut Bait?

Update from the Hague, Day 3

We are excited to report the beginnings of our media work here! Yesterday, Andy Bruckner was interviewed by a reporter at NPR for her story on Marketplace. We are working closely with the US delegation to make sure that we can continue to have access to the right spokespeople at the right times, which is a challenge. Liz spoke with an AP reporter the night of the cocktail party, and he is also scheduled to speak with Andy soon. Julia is working miracles and we have lunch/drinks meetings scheduled with reporters from the BBC and Reuters today as well.

There are hints that coral discussions may come up on the agenda in the afternoon or tomorrow. We will be making an intervention on the floor if possible and are working with TRAFFIC and the US delegation on theirs as well.
Wish us well!

For more photos of the opening events see

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Update from the Hague, Day 2

Some photos for you:
Ellen Pikitch (Pew Institute for Ocean Science) and Wendy Jackson (CITES Secretariat) at the mixer.

These are US delegates - Laura Noguchi is on the right.

Andy speaking with John Hutton, the head of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Andy used a lot of the slide and graphics we sent him, and he did a fantastic job. Overall, very successful event for sharing information. The opposition was there (talking throughtout the entire presentation) but thank goodness there was not a yelling match, like there was at the lunch event like this on Bangaii cardinalfish!

Celebrating a job well begun with Julia, who made all of this possible.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Climate change

The Many Strong Voices alliance says 'societies of the Arctic and Small Island Developing States are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in similar ways.' It aims to bring the two regions together 'to take collaborative and strategic actions on climate change mitigation and adaptation.'
"Together, we have identified common problems as a consequence of climate change, and our communities are suffering," said Taito Nakalevu, Climate Change Officer with the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, based in Samoa. "We insist that those countries that are causing the problems have a responsibility to those whose lives are being affected."
From the Coral Bones blog

Hello from The Hague!

Hey team!
It's been a crazy and hectic, but very good start to the CITES meeting. I met with Mr. Sovaki (Fijian delegate) yesterday and he will be joining us at the cocktail party tomorrow, which is good news. Julia spoke with some of the Italians, and it looks like their position may be more flexible than we had feared. Spent all day yesterday with Ellen Pikitch, and our hotels are literally across the street from the beach, so we enjoyed the Promenade in between meetings.
We've had a somewhat crazy morning so far (at one point I was literally running down the marketplace with my laptop trying to find an outlet before it died - yes, I got down to "1 minute remaining" on my battery before I managed to plug in), but are in great shape.

We are off to go deposit our invitations and stuff some envelopes and press kits!

Friday, June 1, 2007


Please join me in wishing Lindsey a very happy birthdy and an even better birthday weekend!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Week of 28 May

Good morning team!
This week is a really important one for us. I have two important items:
  1. First of all, please join me in a WARM WELCOME for Ms. Betty Oala, who is our new Communications Specialist in Papua New Guinea. I managed to forget to take a photo while I was there, so maybe Rod, you guys could take one together and post it?
  2. Second, Liz is headed to the Netherlands (Den Haag to be specific) for a big international endangered species meeting called CITES - the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna. Many thanks to Va for her efforts to connect us with the CITES authorities in Fiji. See the calendar at the bottom of the page for my travel dates.
Because of this upcoming travel and our newly expanded team, I need to make sure we have really strong conference calls before I leave. Please email me with the times and days you prefer to do that this week.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Leah Bunce headed to Fiji

Hey team, just want to flag that our friend and colleague, Leah Bunce of Conservation International is headed to Suva on Sunday. She's been talking with Shannon, Kathleen, and Hollis, but I'll be updating her on our projects first thing tomorrow.

As most of you know, CI has a new employee in Fiji, and we have been thinking about ways to work with their Marine Managed Area Science (MMAS) project for awhile. Va, my friends Josh and JF who you met may have talked to you about some of these projects.

I am setting Leah up with Va for a meeting, if possible. I will be posting more information soon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Hello team! In our continuing search to find the best ways of sharing information and so on, I thought we could try a blog.