The Reef Tank banner
1 - 1 of 1 Posts

634 Posts

An estimated two-thirds of all coral reefs in the world are at risk today. Hard to believe, until you consider that an estimated 25% of the world's reefs have already disappeared.

It gets worse. More than 80% of the reefs in Southeast Asia are at risk and more than 90% of the reefs in the Florida Keys have lost their living coral cover since 1975.

But there's hope for coral reef conservationists everywhere and it comes in the form of Orla Doherty, Abigail Alling and the rest of the Planetary Coral Reef Foundation (PCRF) which strive to save and protect the world's coral reef ecosystem.

And while yes, unfortunately for various aquarists they do admit housing reefs in tanks is not a good idea, they also offer various other important facts and tips on what you can to help keep them among our marine life environment.

We had the chance to interview Orla Doherty & Abigail Alling and here's what both of them had to say:

What is the vision of PCRF and how do you hope to accomplish that vision?

The Planetary Coral Reef Foundation (PCRF), as a division of the Biosphere Foundation, works with coral reefs in their context as part of the entire biosphere system. PCRF was conceived out of Biosphere 2, a closed system in which the coral reef was the first of all the biomes to reflect changes in the environmental conditions. The Biosphere 2 team that had created this reef at 18,000 feet in the Arizona desert dubbed the coral reef the 'canary in the coalmine'. This analogy is now common parlance amongst coral reef scientists and environmentalists around the world. The canary in the coalmine gave the first responsive signals that the air in the mineshafts had turned bad, that their environment was changing, and were strategically placed to warn miners to evacuate. The coral reefs >are giving the same message across the planet. We as humans just don't seem to be paying them enough attention. Our mission statement is to stop the destruction of the
world's coral reefs by 2020 and restore their beauty, health and abundance within this century.

What kind of programs do you do to ensure this happens?

We are currently refitting a 110' sailing vessel in Europe, to be sailed in 2010 to Southeast Asia where we will continue our work with coral reefs, focusing initially on Indonesia, the world's largest coral reef country and one of the most challenged in managing their resources.

We maintained an expedition at sea continuously for fourteen years, mapping and monitoring coral reefs around the world, running an on-board seamanship and ecology training program, visiting remote islands and cultures, learning about traditional coral reef management systems, witnessing first hand the destruction of reefs and the extent of the problems they face, finding reefs that are still resilient to change and communicating our experiences and scientific findings, through our website, Studio of the Sea, peer reviewed journals and local media.

We publish all our science data and observations for free online on our website.

We are publishing a book in 2010, A Primer to Coral Reefs, an introductory text to the science and biospheric relevance of coral reefs, which will be published in 2011 in Bahasa Indonesia, one of the first comprehensive texts on coral reefs to be published in
the Indonesian language.

We are working with the government of Indonesia to establish a long-term monitoring program and enforce protection on the coral reefs of Menjangan Island, a small and sacred island just off Bali's northwest coast.

We have just secured a preservation order on a turtle-nesting beach on Durai Island in Indonesia's Anambas Island group, and have initiated a program to reverse the trend of poaching and selling turtle eggs.

The site says coral reefs are in crisis! How bad is it out there?

We've already lost 25% of our coral reefs on this planet, and the rate of loss is increasing.

Data from our studies of 49 coral reef sites around the world have shown that two thirds of the world's coral reefs are at risk, which is the same end-result as that from the World Resources Institute's advanced computer modeling.

What can you tell the world to make them see the preservation of corals are very important to the existence of the world (perhaps to marine life, climate change, etc.)

Coral reefs only make up about 1% of the ocean floor, but they house nearly 25% of life in the ocean.

500 million people depend partially or wholly on coral reefs for their daily food and/or livelihood in the form of fishing, mariculture, tourism etc.

Coral reefs are an essential habitat for many ocean creatures to breed and develop and provide habitat to over a million diverse aquatic species.

Coral reefs are potential drugstores of the future. Many of the organisms on the reef contain poisons for self-defense that could be used by the human body in defense against disease. AZT was derived from the extracts of a Caribbean reef sponge for example.

Much current research into cancer drugs is based on coral reef organisms.

Coral reefs protect the coastlines they surround, defending them from wave impacts. This is a particularly vital role in the typhoon belts of the world where frequent passage of violent winds would otherwise have a terrible effect on islands and their communities.

The total economic value of coral reefs comes to approximately US$375 billion per year in tourism, food and coastal protection.

Coral reefs are essential in the biosphere as one of the most productive primary producing ecosystems, meaning they play a key role as converters of the sun's raw energy into organic compounds that can be used by other organisms. On the coral reef, most of this primary production goes on in the zooxanthellae, the microscopic algae within the coral's tissues.

What is Studio of the Sea?

Studio of the Sea creates films about the sea, on the sea. Much of our work is done from our vessel, which is our production office and editing studio combined. We have spent fifteen years gathering material from around the world about sea cultures, sea creatures
and sea people. Our films are online at our website and our archive is available through our agent in New York.

Tell me about the Research and Youth Leadership Program at Sea.

We ran this program for fourteen years and over a 100 students graduated through it.

Seamanship formed a major part of the leadership training, with full involvement in sailing the ship and keeping it safe when in harbor. Coral reefs were the research focus, and participants learned the basics of coral reef ecology and biology and took full part in
the collection of data on reefs around the world. Learning about living in a community, on a ship at sea, was also a large part of the program, with group events and activities aimed at increasing the potential of all those taking part.

How can I as an average person such as myself make a difference in marine conservation and the coral reef crisis?

Take a moment to think for yourself about how your life and habits, possibly thousands of miles from shore, might impact the coral reefs. The most effective changes are going to be the ones you think up for yourself, not the ones you read about in newspaper articles
or on websites.

If you use paper in any way, shape or form, you are having an impact on coral reefs somewhere. Paper comes from trees and deforestation has led to the suffocation of reefs around the world when runoff flows straight from cleared land into the shallows, sits on
top of the corals and chokes them to death.

If you eat food farmed with fertilizers, pesticides etc. you are having an impact on coral reefs somewhere. These chemicals run off the land into the shallows and cause a phenomenon called eutrophication where the levels of nitrates and phosphates cause algae to grow like crazy. Algae are fierce competitors to corals for space and light, and they usually win the fight, overgrowing coral fast.

If you run the water constantly while taking a shower, brushing your teeth or washing dishes and/or if you use non-biodegradable soaps or soaps in excess, then you are contributing to an overload of water with chemicals causing eutrophication (as above).
This polluted water causes not only a demise of coral reefs but of ocean habitats as well.

If you use a lot of power or burn a lot of fossil fuels, by driving your car unnecessarily or flying without needing to, you are having an impact. You are contributing to global warming and this is killing corals at an alarming rate.

As the planet warms up, so too do our seas and corals are not managing to cope with this increase in temperature. They expel the symbiotic zooxanthellae that live in their tissues. These microscopic algae give corals most of their color. When they leave the coral is left white, hence the term 'bleaching'.

Bleaching events are occurring with increased intensity and less interval between them allowing very little time for the reefs to recover between events.

Ocean acidification is the second ramification from global warming that is going to affect corals in the future. With increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there is increased carbon dioxide dissolving in the seas, creating more acidic conditions which discourage
corals from creating their carbonate skeleton, in other words growing. If this condition reaches crisis point, it could even cause existing coral skeletons to dissolve back into the sea.

Those are some of the dots that we can all work harder at connecting.

Then there are the direct impacts.

If you eat shrimp, then the seabed somewhere has been raked by a bottom trawler to catch those shrimp. It will have ploughed up everything on the seafloor, including corals, sponges and seafans.

If you eat shark fin soup, then you are contributing to the disappearance of sharks from our seas.

If you take a boat to a reef, then you are responsible for ensuring that no anchor is dropped on the corals, that no corals are broken by standing on them or snorkeling, diving smashing them.

And if you have an aquarium with coral reef fish and coral reef substrate in it, then you have most likely contributed to the practice of cyanide fishing which is causing the destruction of reefs all over the world, but especially in Southeast Asia.

Do you think someone who houses coral reefs in a tank can still be considered a marine conservationist?

Absolutely not, quite the opposite in fact. A marine conservationist conserves coral reefs as a natural habitat, that is, in the world's tropical oceans. An aquarium is an artificial habitat, frequently thousands of miles from the nearest coastline let alone coral reef. It is very possible that if more people understood the devastating impacts caused by the aquarium industry, there would be far fewer aquariums in living rooms around the world.

The aquarium industry has created a multitude of severe threats to coral reefs.
A 'well-stocked' aquarium contains colorful substrate and vivid fish. Unfortunately, most of the items in aquarium tanks have been taken illegally and by methods that leave a trail of destruction.

Something that perhaps is not well enough understood by aquarium hobbyists is the practice of cyanide fishing that goes on, predominantly in southeast Asia, although a form of poison fishing is now commonly found in many parts of the world.

Sodium or potassium cyanide is a readily available and cheap poison. It's used in electroplating and in mining industries. Using it for fishing is unfortunately easy.

Tablets are mixed with water and squirted onto the reef, fish are stunned and lie waiting to be scooped up with nets or hands. Fishermen either squirt it in front of the fish they want to catch, or into a crevice where their victim is hiding. They usually then smash the
reef to get to the stunned fish. If too much cyanide is used, the creatures will die but just the right amount simply anaesthetizes them. The concentration required to catch highly prized large reef fish can be lethal to most other reef organisms including smaller fish,
invertebrates and hard corals. Even low levels of cyanide will kill larvae and small fish.

Cyanide damages the liver, intestine and reproductive organs of the fish.

The use of cyanide fishing has increased in the Indo-Pacific region (from the Red Sea all the way across Southeast Asia, through Papua New Guinea, Fiji to French Polynesia). 85% of the world's aquarium fish are caught in this region and almost all of them are caught using cyanide.

Ninety percent of these fish die because cyanide destroys their internal organs.

It has been estimated that over 150,000 kg of dissolved cyanide is squirted onto about 33 million coral heads every year in the Philippines.

Cyanide also causes corals to bleach, ejecting their zooxanthellae in the same way that they respond to elevated sea surface temperatures. Eventually, after repeated attack with cyanide solution, the coral substrate will be poisoned to death, leaving no habitat for the fish.

Poisoning fish is an old tradition. In many island nations, local plants which contain natural poisons have been used for centuries, for example Derris root, known as duva in Fiji. The switch to chemicals, however, has caused an escalation in the scale of poisoning on the reef.

This is destructive and wasteful. Many other non-targeted fish are killed and abandoned on the reef. Many of the targeted fish die within 48 hours from the effects of the poison. Many more die in transit from reef to retailer. Much coral reef habitat is also poisoned or
smashed by fishermen breaking up the reef to get to their catch.

If you insist on keeping fish in a tank, miles from their natural habitat, research the work of the Marine Aquarium Council who are working to certify legitimate fishing and shipping methods, those fish that have not been caught by cyanide etc.

Please also consider collecting and making your own tanks like Dr. Julian Spring at Two Little Fishes Inc. and in that process learn about restoring natural habitats.

How do you involve the local community in your Bali projects in Indonesia?

We are at the very beginning stages of our project in Bali and will begin by first taking full stock of the situation in north west Bali, working with the local communities to find out the details of the issues facing the reefs at Menjangan Island, then working with them
to create solutions to the problems. This will include helping to enforce the zonation that already exists within the Marine Reserve but which is currently not patrolled, helping to create an effective reporting system to the National Park when conservation rules are violated, and working on an educational program for the local communities.

What is the future of the coral reef situation and of PCRF?

PCRF and the Biosphere Foundation will continue to pioneer marine conservation projects, both from land and sea bases, and, as a small non-profit organization, continue its ethos of working efficiently and effectively to create and inspire, with a small but dedicated team. We are interested only in making sustainable commitments to coral reefs and communities.

The future for coral reefs is unknown. There is much that we can do to make a difference to that future. If we carry on regardless, coral reefs are on a collision course to devastation. It is unlikely that they will completely disappear from the planet, although they have experienced three full extinctions in the past. However, they will become drab and dull, monospecific and lacking in the vibrance and biodiversity that nourishes us
physically and mentally.

If we change our thinking, we can help them. Because of the time-lag in the seas warming after carbon dioxide has been emitted, global warming is going to get worse before it gets better, even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases right here, right now.

However, we can help mitigate the effects of global warming, by preventing coral reefs having to cope with multiple stresses. By reducing pollution, overfishing, destructive fishing, deforestation, coastal overdevelopment and all the other disaster scenarios we are throwing at the reefs right now, we can increase their chances of making it through the next decade of change. And if they survive that reasonably intact, they might survive the decade beyond that. And perhaps by then, we will have made some irreversible changes in our own behaviors, which will ensure their future beyond that.

1 - 1 of 1 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.