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Saving coral reefs becomes a tourism priority
By Bonnie Tsui
IHT
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Green sea turtles, cascades of glittering reef fish, blooming coral pillars — countless travelers have come nose to nose with a thriving undersea universe while on vacation. But increasingly, divers and snorkelers are swimming over bleached hunks of coral devastated by shore runoff or overfishing.

From the South Pacific to the Caribbean, coral reefs — which are among the most delicate of marine ecosystems — are bearing the brunt of climate change and other human-driven activities — including coastal development, deforestation and unrestricted tourism. Now, many in the tourist industry are trying to halt the damage.

And it is no wonder. The dollars involved in reef-based tourism are significant: Australia's Great Barrier Reef alone draws about 1.9 million visitors a year, supporting a $4.2 billion industry. According to the Nature Conservancy, the annual economic value of coral reefs to world tourism is $9.6 billion.

Growing awareness of environmental issues means that the tourism industry has lately been a partner to conservation efforts in major reef areas. Though the Great Barrier is the most famous reef, it is not the most threatened; its extensive marine management program is widely regarded as a model for conservation. It includes eco-certification programs for tourism operators within the boundaries of the marine park, environmental tourist fees, large no-take zones, species monitoring and tourism industry contributions to the Great Barrier Reef's main research center.

But the world's second-largest barrier reef, the Mesoamerican Reef in the Caribbean, is seriously endangered by coastal development, runoff and pollution. The reef system stretches nearly 700 miles from the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico to the Bay Islands of Honduras.

And reefs in the Coral Triangle in Southeast Asia — which reaches from Malaysia to the Philippines, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands, encompassing some of the planet's most diverse marine habitats — have been severely damaged by overfishing and destructive practices, including the use of cyanide and dynamite to capture fish.

In 2004, the nonprofit group Conservation International began a program called the Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative, which aims to address the threat that mass tourism poses to the Mesoamerican Reef by engaging hoteliers, developers, cruise lines and local governments in Mexico, Belize and Honduras. There is special emphasis on the Riviera Maya of Mexico, where, less than nine miles offshore, the island of Cozumel is the world's second most-visited cruise destination after Miami, according to the International Council of Cruise Lines.

Last year, as part of the Mesoamerican Reef initiative's efforts, the cruise line council began an effort to avoid wastewater discharge by cruise ships in environmentally sensitive areas.

"This program will ensure that cruise line wastewater is discharged at least four miles from any of the sensitive marine ecosystems within the Mesoamerican Reef system, thereby minimizing the chance such discharges will have negative impact on the long-term health of the reef," said Jamie Sweeting, who oversees Conservation International's work with the travel industry.

The cruise industry is a particular area of concern, since ships regularly disgorge crowds of passengers into fragile coastal areas that strain to absorb the impact. Conservation International estimates that cruise passengers typically make about 2,000 scuba dives in and around Cozumel's surrounding reefs in a single day.

"We're working with the municipal government, the local dive and water sports association, and the cruise lines themselves, because they all have a vested interest to look after this coral reef," Sweeting said.

Areas being addressed include the creation of a dedicated snorkeling zone in Cozumel to limit visitor impact to one section of the reef, and ensuring that park management fees are collected and put toward protection and management of marine areas. The Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative has also begun a program to evaluate and implement good business practices for conserving water and energy, reducing solid waste and managing chemicals at coastal hotels along the Riviera Maya and in southern Belize.

Crucial partnerships between conservation groups and the tourism industry have also taken root in the Coral Triangle. In developing nations like Indonesia, where human and financial resources are slim, the cooperation of private tourism businesses has been instrumental in accomplishing reef conservation goals.

For example, Bunaken National Park, in north Sulawesi, is today managed in large part by a local association of dive operators who saw the declining quality of coral (and their livelihood) in the mid-1990s.

The Nature Conservancy's Coral Triangle Center works at several sites in Indonesia, including the Raja Ampat Islands in Papua and Komodo National Park, a major protected marine area in the Lesser Sunda Islands. Komodo is now run by a nonprofit joint venture between the Nature Conservancy and a local tourism company. The joint venture, PT Putri Naga Komodo, was established in 2005.

Founded in 1980, the park is a World Heritage Site and protects the habitat of the Komodo dragon, as well as important whale migration routes between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The reefs are rich in coral species and home to up to 1,000 species of fish.

"After a decade supporting conservation in Komodo National Park, the Nature Conservancy recognized the need for self-sufficiency," said Marcus Matthews-Sawyer, director of tourism communications for the joint venture. "The idea was that a joint venture between a well-respected NGO and local tourism company would be able to balance conservation concerns with the need to generate revenues to ensure the long-term sustainability of the park."

Tourism has helped raise awareness of the destination and of the reefs' biological importance. Blast fishing — using explosives to stun or kill fish — is now prohibited within the park. The ban is credited with a 60 percent increase in hard coral coverage between 1996 and 2002, according to the Coral Triangle Center. The collection of conservation fees from tourists, about $15 a stay, is vital to sustaining park management. The partnership plans to have Komodo self-financed by park fees by 2012.

Though Komodo is one of Indonesia's greatest tourism assets — it is one of the most frequently visited nature reserves in the country — conservation work there is also necessary to protect young fish that are a source for surrounding fishing grounds.

Enforcement of the park zoning system, which restricts access to certain parts of the reefs, continues to be a challenge because of limited resources. But a major goal of the tourism partnership is supporting sustainable community use of the reef area, which includes providing alternative livelihoods to destructive fishing.

"Tourism creates jobs and puts much-needed income into the hands of local people, including those who previously might only have made a living from fishing," Matthews-Sawyer said.

All three reef systems — the Great Barrier Reef, the Mesoamerican Reef and the Coral Triangle — are jeopardized by the threat of global warming, which kills coral and leads to a bleaching effect. And while tourism cannot solve the problem of rising sea temperatures, the industry's cooperation to eliminate specific pressures — by establishing a well-enforced no-take zone, or reducing wastewater pollution, for example — helps reefs recover from bleaching and disease. The contribution of conservation fees to support the protected areas, which many businesses have long resisted, is also important.

To keep coral reefs from disappearing as quickly as they have in recent years, people need to be involved and educated on every level from local government to hotel developers to cruise lines, said Sweeting of Conservation International.

"It took Cancún 35 years to develop to this massive size, and it took less than a decade for the Riviera Maya," he said. "But nature will not let you get away with it."
 

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Victory at sea: the world's largest protected area established this year in the remote pacific, points the way to restoring marine ecosystems
1 September 2008
Smithsonian

AT FIRST SIGHT, THE PEOPLE OF Kiribati, a nation of tiny islands in the central Pacific, would not appear to be model conservationists. Trash is abundant all along Tarawa, the capital island, a skinny atoll shaped like a backward L and crammed with 40,000 people. (It was the site of one of the costliest landings in World War II, in which 1,000 U.S. marines were killed.) The rustic charm of the traditional thatched houses, which have raised platform floors and no walls, is offset by the smell of human waste wafting from the beaches. The groundwater is contaminated. Infant mortality is high, life expectancy low. And yet this past January impoverished Kiribati established the world's largest protected area, a marine reserve the size of California.

It surrounds the Phoenix Islands, a remote, largely unpopulated archipelago 1,000 miles east of Tarawa. The 158,000-square-mile Phoenix Islands Protected Area, covering about 12 percent of Kiribati's watery domain, holds some of the world's most pristine coral reefs as well as a great abundance and diversity of tropical marine life. And it's the first reserve to place such a large area of open ocean off-limits to commercial fishing. The reserve is one of the planet's ecological bright spots, the boldest, most dramatic effort to save the oceans' coral reefs, the richest habitat in the seas. No wonder the I-Kiribati (pronounced ee-kiri-bahs, which is what the people call themselves; the country is pronounced kiri-bahs) want to showcase the reserve as a uniquely unspoiled center for marine science, recreational diving and eco-tourism.

Though coral reefs cover less than half a percent of the oceans' area, they host more than 25 percent of its fish species. The first worldwide assessment of coral reefs, released this summer, showed that a third face extinction due to climate change, disease, pollution and overfishing. Australia has outlawed fishing along a third of the Great Barrier Reef to stem the decline of fish stocks there. Palau, a prime scuba-diving destination in the western Pacific, has created a series of no-take areas to protect its healthiest reefs, which amount to a third of its coastline. Other Pacific island governments agreed to do the same, in what they dubbed the "Micronesia Challenge. "The Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, all of whose waters are severely overfished, have responded with a "Caribbean Challenge," which will set aside a fifth of their waters for coral and fish recovery.

In the United States, the largest protected area is the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, established in 2006 around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It's about 140,000 square miles, larger than all the other U.S. national parks put together. Commercial fishing is expected to be phased out in the area by 2011. The reserve is home to rare and endangered fish as well as turtles, whales, seals and birds.

Marine reserves have proved to be even more effective than researchers hoped. In a recent study of more than 600 miles of coastline in the Great Barrier Reef where fishing was banned only two years earlier, populations of a popular grouper, locally known as the coral trout, were up to 68 percent higher than in areas where fishing had continued.

"It's much better to conserve than to rehabilitate," says Alan Friedlander, a fisheries ecologist with the biogeography branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Honolulu. 'An area as large and as pristine as the Phoenix Islands still has all the pieces of the puzzle that we need to understand how a reef ecosystem works. It's going to tell us what we need to know to use the most effective methods to rehabilitate the reefs where overfishing collapses the delicate balance of nature."

GREGORY STONE, A MARINE BIOLOGIST at the New England Aquarium in Boston, is one of the prime movers behind the Kiribati reserve. He got a call from Rob Barrel, the operator of a luxury dive boat based in Fiji, who was assembling a group of scientists to study the islands in 2000 on behalf of some conservation-minded divers. Stone jumped at the chance to visit what he calls "the last unexplored oceanic coral reef archipelago in the world."

It was an eye-opening 11 days. "We were completely blown away by the density of marine life we saw--none of us had seen anything like it," Stone recalls. "We would dive into schools of big fish that were so thick they dulled the sunlight like clouds passing above. Looking down, we saw thousands of smaller fish blanketing the reef like flocks of birds." Off the island of Hull, he adds, "the density of giant clams was more than I'd even known existed. There were hundreds of thousands of them, their mantles were like a kaleidoscope."

David Obura, of the Coral Reef Degradation in the Indian Ocean project and chief coral scientist for the trip, says he was astonished by "the first pristine fish populations and the most healthy corals I'd ever seen. It was wild--constant movement and colors, fish streaming in rivers along the reef in one direction, then back the next moment, continually shifting and changing like tributaries in a delta, forming and re-forming. We'd see huge balls of fish that would envelop us and move on."

"For me," Stone says, "it was the first time I had seen what the ocean may have been like thousands of years ago."

That, in itself, was a major discovery Scientists have a pretty good idea of what terrestrial wildlife and forests and deserts looked like before people started cutting trees, draining swamps and wiping out some species and introducing others. But the oceans' past has long been rather a blank. We fished first and asked questions later. One of the first great cases of overfishing, of north Atlantic cod, began in the 19th century long before the scuba tank allowed us to get a good look underwater. Surviving accounts of fantastically abundant marine life, starting with explorers like Ferdinand Columbus (Christopher's son), seemed so different from what 20th-century fishermen and researchers had found that "people were wary to believe the history" says marine ecologist Stuart Sandin of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "Scientific diving on coral reefs began in the 1950s, and the goal at first was descriptive. No one worried about whether what they were seeing was natural or had been modified by people."

It was only in the 1990s that marine scientists became aware of what Daniel Pauly a fisheries biologist at the University of British Columbia, calls the shifting baseline syndrome--the problem of establishing historic populations of marine life in a given species or community Just what is a healthy number of, say, red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico? "Each generation {of scientists} accepts as a base line the stock size and species composition that occurred at the beginning of {that generation's} career," says Pauly The result is that, over time, the expectation of the natural number offish in the sea gets smaller and smaller--until the population is so small that even a modest environmental perturbation, or a tad more fishing, causes it to unexpectedly collapse, as the cod population collapsed off Newfoundland and Labrador in the early 1990s.

By the time Stone's team arrived in the Phoenix Islands, marine biologists "were all subconsciously searching for the place that was truly pristine, that would end the debate about what a truly pristine reef should look like," Stone recalls. "And we knew it when we found it."

Obura says that once he dived into the waters of the Phoenix Islands, "I realized this was the holy grail and wondered how long it would last."

In 2000 and in a second survey in 2002, Stone and his colleagues documented more than 150 species of coral and 550 species of reef fish. While the diversity was not unusual for this part of the world, the abundance was. The team found numerous reef sharks and groupers that had become rare elsewhere. "We saw the highest density of big Napoleon wrasses in the world," says Stone, "and that speaks volumes because that's the first fish the fishermen fish if"--he burst out laughing--"fishermen fish fish. Seriously, if those are in good shape, you know everything else is going to be fine." A 30-year-old Napoleon wrasse can weigh up to 420 pounds, and in Hong Kong its flesh retails for S90 per pound; the lips sell for $300.

WHY SO MANY FISH in the Phoenix Islands? The islands are remote: 2,000 miles from Hawaii and 700 miles from the nearest major airport, in Samoa, which precludes flying live catch to major markets. In addition, the creation of the reserve was possible in part because it came at a time when the virtually unpopulated islands were considered--well, largely useless.

Polynesians settled the islands and built structures of coral stone between 950 and 1500, but they never stayed for long, probably because of frequent droughts. The islands' main source of potable water is rain, which can be scarce. In the early 1800s, whalers charted most of the islands but seldom landed on them. Until the 1880s, U.S. companies mined many of the islands for guano, or seabird droppings, which is rich in phosphate and nitrate and is used as fertilizer. Great Britain later annexed most of the islands and planted tens of thousands of coconut trees. But coconuts, like people, require plenty of water, and the plantations dried up and failed or were abandoned. Colonies intended to ease crowding in Tarawa and the other Gilbert Islands were started in the 1930s and 1940s, but all had been abandoned by the 1960s.

Being halfway between Honolulu and New Zealand made the Phoenix Islands attractive as a refueling stop. Pan American World Airways Clipper seaplanes began touching down at the island of Kanton in 1940, but such travel ended in World War II, when Kanton was taken over by the U.S. military. After the war, Pan Am and other airlines returned with wheeled propeller craft, and a business exporting fish to Hawaii flourished briefly. But the long-range Boeing 707 jet, introduced in 1954, made the airport obsolete. In i960, NASA built a tracking station for the Mercury space program on Kanton. The station closed in 1967. Two years later, the U.S. Air Force built a base to monitor the trajectory of Minuteman missiles, test-fired from California over the Pacific, but it too closed, in 1979.

That year, Kiribati was born as an independent nation incorporating the Gilbert Islands and the Phoenix Islands, along with most of the Line Islands. Today it has a population of 110,000. The nation's "exclusive economic zone," where it has sovereignty over natural resources (from 12 to 200 nautical miles from shore, the closest 12 miles being its territorial waters), is 1.37 million square miles, or larger than India. Its entire landmass is 313 square miles, the size of Kansas City

WHEN GREGORY STONE first approached Kiribati officials in 2001 about creating a marine reserve, he carried a lavishly illustrated book of underwater photographs taken around the Phoenix Islands. "The book caused quite a sensation," recalls Tukabu Teroroko, then the deputy fisheries minister. "We had no idea there was so much life out there."

It was clear that outlawing the small-scale commercial fishing that occurred close to the Phoenix Islands would pose no political problem, but restricting deep-ocean fishing could be painful: nearly a third of Kiribati's $80 million annual budget came from licenses sold to deep-water fising operations, eseially the large ships that can haul up to 100 tons of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna a day.

The key to banning tuna fishing was the Washington, D.C.-based environmental group Conservation International, which Stone brought into the negotiations. The group said it could raise money for the management of a marine reserve and compensate the I-Kiribati for any income they forfeited by restricting commercial fishing. "The Republic of Kiribati has now set a standard for other countries in the Pacific and elsewhere in the world," says Conservation International president Russell Mittermeier.

Kiribati President Anote Tong, a graduate of the London School of Economics, who was re-elected for his second four-year term this past October, has supported the reserve initiative from the beginning. "We thought it was a very good idea in this day and age of threat to biodiversity," he says in his spartan office in the ultramodern Parliament building. Tong, who favors traditional Pacific skirts, says "we believe the scope for ecotourism is great."

Teroroko, whose salary as marine reserve director and budget come from Conservation International, says the reserve "gives us insurance against the loss of marine life. It will show the world that even though we're small, we are leaders. And it will give scientists a place to observe the impact of global warming with no other man-made factors present."

FOR A NATION THAT IS SPREAD OUT across a series of coral atolls, the health of the surrounding reefs is a matter of life and death, for they provide not only food but also protection from waves. And such atoll reefs become even more important as sea levels rise. Seas rose almost 7 inches in the 20th century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and are conservatively predicted to rise between 8 and 24 inches this century because of melting of ice caps and other environmental changes brought on by global warming.

Healthy coral reefs will continue to grow even as sea levels rise, says Jim Maragos, a coral reef biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu. "But the damaged ones will not." A dead or dying coral reef will break up into rubble after a couple of decades. Eventually big ocean swells could wash away villages on islands that, like Tarawa, rise only a few feet above the high-tide mark.

As it happens, perhaps the most ambitious study of the health of coral reefs was conducted partly in Kiribati territory and reported this year. Scientists compared four areas of the Line Islands, strung across 450 miles: King man Reef, which has no permanently dry land, is a U.S. wildlife refuge; Palmyra Atoll has been closed to fishing since 2001; and the Kiribati islands of Tabuaeran (formerly called Fanning) and Kiritimati (formerly called Christmas), whose populations have shot up in the last few decades to 2,500 and 5,100, respectively. Both are now being overfished in parts, the scientists say.

"Going from Kingman to Palmyra to Fanning to Christmas is like going forward in time," says Sandin, of the Scripps Institution, who coordinated the study "It gives you what we called a gradient of human disturbance--a way to examine precisely how human activity affects the reefs."

The marine scientists analyzed all aspects of reef life--fish, corals, algae and, for the first time, microbes. As they moved from Kingman to Kiritimati, the abundance of fish fell dramatically. At Kingman, it was 5.3 metric tons per hectare, of which 40 percent were sharks, 40 percent other large predators like jacks, snappers and groupers and 20 percent small fish. Palmyra came in at 2.5 tons per hectare, Tabuaeran at 1.7 tons and Kiritimati, where virtually all the sharks have been killed for their fins, at just 1.3 tons.

The scientists discovered a link between shark density and coral reef health: the coral reefs at Kiritimati had the most algal growth, and Kingman's the least. "We're not sure how the link works," says Sandin, "but we think that when there are large numbers of sharks, herbivores eat more algae and grow faster so they can reproduce before they themselves get eaten." Algae can stifle coral development and also release sugar into the water, providing food for bacteria that include pathogens like E. coli and streptococcus and staphylococcus, which increase the rate of coral disease and attack larvae of the organisms that make up coral reefs. Overall, the researchers found that the corals in Kingman were in much better shape than those in Kiritimati, despite satellite data indicating a 2002 spike in area water temperatures, which causes coral bleaching and other diseases. "This shows that healthy reefs with a lot of fish can survive global warming much better than fished-out ones," says Sandin. "That's another reason for creating more marine reserves and building up the fish populations."

TARATAAKE TEANNAKI, Kiribati's head of tourism, hopes that even more scientists will start coming to Kiribati. "We want to build a lab like they have in Palmyra," he says. And he hopes to use the cachet of the world's biggest marine reserve to develop eco-tourism focused on diving and bird-watching. Jobs are sorely needed in Kiribati, where only 21 percent of the eligible workers are fully employed, most of them in government jobs.

Jacob Teem, who represents Kanton and Kiritimati is lands in the Kiribati Parliament, operates a small catch-and-release fishing lodge on Kiritimati and says he plans to start another in Kanton. Emil Schutz, who runs a small eco-re-sort on a scenic islet near Tarawa, hopes to create a bigger one on Kanton to cater to scientists and recreational divers.

Reserve director Teroroko says the more tourist boats, the better: they could function as the authorities' eyes and ears and help prevent poaching inside the reserve. He hopes to attract a fleet that would take bird-watchers to Birnie, Phoenix and McKean islands, all longtime bird sanctuaries. "We could even anchor some floating platforms and let tourists dive off them," he says.

Might the Phoenix Islands someday be harmed by too much of a good thing? "The Phoenix are too isolated to ever be ruined by tourism, so I'm not worried," says Stone. "On the contrary I hope that those who get to see the extraordinary underwater life in these islands will spread the notion that it's really important to save our last pristine reefs. And diving off a floating platform with tens of thousands of fish going around has to be the ultimate way of experiencing the open ocean and seeing some of the most remarkable animals on earth."

CHRISTOPHER PALA lives in Honolulu and is the author of The Oddest Place on Earth: Rediscovering the North Pole.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Smithsonian Institution
 

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Climate: a fifth of world's corals already dead, say experts
10 December 2008
Agence France Presse

Almost a fifth of the planet's coral reefs have died and carbon emissions are largely to blame, according to an NGO study released Wednesday.

The report, released by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, warned that on current trends, growing levels of greenhouse gases will destroy many of the remaining reefs over the next 20 to 40 years.

"If nothing is done to substantially cut emissions, we could effectively lose coral reefs as we know them, with major coral extinctions," said Clive Wilkinson, the organisation's coordinator.

The paper was issued on the sidelines of the December 1-12 negotiations on a new global treaty on climate change, taking place under the UN flag.

Half a billion people around the world depend on coral reefs for food and tourism, according to a common estimate.

Experts say the coral die-off has several causes, including local pollution, overfishing and invasive species.

But, they say, rising ocean temperatures caused by the greenhouse effect, and acidification, caused by the ocean's absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, are probably the biggest triggers.

"If nothing changes, we are looking at a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide in less than 50 years," said Carl Gustaf Lundin, head of the the global marine programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, an umbrella network for more than a 1,000 NGOs and government groups.

"As this carbon is absorbed, the oceans will become more acidic, which is seriously damaging a wide range of marine life from corals to plankton communities and from lobsters to seagrasses."

Nearly half of global coral reefs are still healthy, but the overall downward trend shows no sign of stopping, the study found. It added, though, that the damage could be braked by strong conservation measures, such as properly policed marine parks.
 

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My View Diving in to save industry
11 February 2009
The Cairns Post

IN these times of economic downturn, there are two ways to go.

One is follow the crowd and wait for something to happen, the other is to get in front of the crisis and make it happen.

Dive Queensland has decided to take the latter approach.

In 2007, when the first signs of global economic slowdown appeared on the horizon, Dive Queensland formulated an international awareness strategy.

The "Dive the Wonder Down Under" (www.thewonderdownunder.com) campaign launched in 2008 first focused on the US.

Cairns tourism operators have again joined together to launch the "Dive the Wonder Down Under UK" which is targeted at the UK diving community.

This Dive Queensland initiative has successfully united local businesses and government bodies for the second year in a focused campaign that showcases one of the world's great natural wonders.

The "Dive the Wonder Down Under" campaign offers the chance for four lucky people from the UK to win a return trip to Cairns, including accommodation and an extended dive trip to the world famous Cod Hole.

Using its industry partners the equipment manufacturer Scubapro, Dive World Wide, SSI International and PADI, Dive Queensland is working with UK dive shop owners to promote this campaign direct to the heart of the diving community reaching more than 120 of the top dive shops/clubs.

The centrepiece of the campaign is the website showcasing the supporting dive operators and local businesses, including the Cairns Port Authority, hotels, restaurants and tour agencies.

A full list of community supporters can be found at www.thewonderdownunder.com/sponsors.htm.

The Great Barrier Reef is a world heritage listed natural wonder with marine life diversity seen nowhere else in the world.

Housing more than 10 per cent of the world's fish species with four new species discovered last year, the Great Barrier Reef is truly a world treasure that needs to be on everyone's to do list.

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world, composed of more than 2900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for 2600km over an area of about 344,400sq km.

This is an area about 40 per cent greater than the UK itself, which covers 244,820sq km.

In the 2006/2007 financial year, international tourism generated $22 billion for Australia with Great Barrier Reef Marine Park tourism generating more than $1b per annum.

The marine tourism industry is a major contributor to the local and Australian economies.

The money for these campaigns has been raised through the efforts of Dive Queensland, which has, by no means, been an easy task in these tough economic times.

Tony Bridgewater is on the Dive Queensland board.
 

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Barrier Reef disaster status 'will hurt tourism'
ABC - March 22, 2009, 7:19 am

The Queensland Tourism Industry Council says declaring part of the Great Barrier Reef a natural disaster zone would be disastrous for reef tourism.

The Seafood Industry Association wants the State Government to declare half the Great Barrier Reef a natural disaster area because of damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Hamish.

The association says the category five storm destroyed parts of the reef from Bowen south to the Wide Bay and jobs are at risk because the fish have gone.

But Daniel Gschwind from the Queensland Tourism Industry Council says declaring the reef a disaster area is not a good move.

"It would be very unhelpful for the tourism operators up and down the coast," he said.

He says the negative publicity would further hurt tourism operators.

"We recognise that Cyclone Hamish was a significant natural event but to take the step now and seek a declaration for a natural disaster would certainly not be helpful," he said.

"It would be inappropriate and probably misleading for the public as well.

"We're very keen to make sure that the public is not driven into believing that it's no longer worth going to see the reef."

The Department of Primary Industries says a disaster declaration over half the reef would be a first.

But the Queensland Fisheries Department says it could take up to a year before fish numbers return to normal in the southern section of the Great Barrier Reef .

Department director-general Jim Groves says fishing operations cannot continue as normal.

"Coral will recover in time. The advice we've been given is it could take 12 months for the fish to reappear," he said.

"There are fish further north so some operators have moved up to off the Townsville region, but there's a limit to how many operators can operate in the smaller area that's now available."
 

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Serangan coral reef to open for marine tourism
7 April 2009
The Jakarta Post

Following their success with transplanting coral, residents of Serangan, Denpasar, are planning to develop a marine tourism site to give visitors a chance to experience the beautiful underwater scenery while learning about environment.

"We are still working on the concept," said Wayan Patut, who pioneered the coral reef transplantation in Serangan. "But basically the people, the village administration and the traditional leaders have agreed to make it happen."

Serangan, about 10 kilometers south of the heart of Denpasar, used to be a small island, separate from Bali. But the Bali Turtle Island Development (BTID), one of the business enterprises belonging to the family of former president Soeharto, reclaimed the area in 1995 and 1996 as a tourist development.

Patut was one of the public figures in Serangan who opposed the megaproject, as it had a negative impact on locals, who until then had earned a living as fishermen, by damaging both the local economy and the environment.

"The fish disappeared, many coral reefs died. Some fishermen turned to collecting coral for a living," he said, referring to an activity that is harmful to the environment.

In 2002, Patut started to transplant coral using the grafting technique, or planting coral seeds on substrates (where the coral grows, including dead coral). In attaching the "seeds", Patut was helped by local youth groups, who later established the Karya Segara Beach Fishermen's Group. They make small "stools" or plates from cement with metal or concrete frames to position the coral.

They have planted 32 species of corals, which are growing well across a 3.5-hectare area, according to Patut.

"Many fish have also started to come. What makes me happier is that since 2003 people have stopped collecting coral," he said.

He is also glad because local customary rules have been revised, stipulating that people are obliged to help preserve the environment, especially coral reefs.

When Serangan becomes a marine tourism site, its long history will be an important story for tourists, while the main attraction will be the magnificent underwater coral reef garden.

Patut added that he has mapped out the route for visitors who are interested in snorkeling and diving. A glass boat will be available for those who do not dive.

It will start from the location outside the transplantation zone, where visitors will see the spread of destroyed coral. "It is a vast area. It is so sad to see it because it looks like a desert," he said.

The journey will continue to the coral reef garden. Visitors will first see the young coral and the stools and plates that support them, before they are taken to see the adult ones surrounded by a range of species of fishes and other marine biota.

"This route will allow visitors to see the real underwater state of Serangan, coral that died because of natural causes or reclamation or because of people's activities, collecting coral for commercial purposes," he said.

He said he believed people's hard work and strong commitment would lead to the existence of a coral reef garden with ecological and economic benefits.

But, he stressed, it was not about the money. For this reason, he plans to limit the number of participants in each underwater tour.

"In a day, we will allow only 10 to 15 people to prevent any impression that we are exploiting or commercializing it," he said.

The aim of the policy is to protect the coral's growth and to prevent any potential harmful impact from the tourists.

He also said he was determined to avoid any interference by investors, especially the BTID. "We have quite a lot of experience, so we will be more careful about the persuasion of investors, even though we are in need of money. We won't let them cheat us again."

He said the planned tourism development required not only equipment such as a boat and snorkeling and diving equipment but also guides who have diving certificates and can speak foreign languages, at least English.

Local people, he said, would be able to do everything and would be managed by the traditional village authorities.

"We want to create our own jobs to earn a living, so there won't be any moral duty to any party, and we won't be under their command."

According to head of Kaja hamlet in Serangan, Ketut Pusara, local people now have a greater awareness about the environment. For example, he said, those who used to make money by collecting coral now become fishermen.

"In the past, many people used coral to build houses or temples. But not anymore," he said, "We agree to the tourism development plan as long as it is good, for us and for the environment in Serangan."

Patut added that he had set a target of completing the coral transplantation on the 8-hectare area by 2015, considering the limited funding and human resources.

He is relying on the support of the government and NGOs for the coral cuttings and the procurement of a place to grow them. Patut and a group of local youths will look after planting and maintaining the coral voluntarily; the only money they might receive will be a meal allowance.

By his calculations, people's volunteer contributions were worth Rp 5 billion. "This was calculated from making the plates to the plantation and the maintenance," said Patut.

He has also formed a special team providing coral-planting services, called the Working Group for Bali Coral Reef Conservation. The group has served several clients in Bali and other islands.

He said the group had provided 200,000 seeds for the coral transplantation in Serangan. The market price of an 8-centimeter coral seed, under special permit from Natural Resources Conservation Office (BKSDA), is anywhere between US$6 and $15.

But Patut said they still needed seeds to expand the coral reef garden, adding that tourists might later be involved in the plantation project by putting their names to a special plate, for a fee.

Marine tourism activities at Serangan will be priced affordably. Visitors will be able to rent a boat for Rp 250,000 per trip and scuba equipment for Rp 100,000 per person. The fee for hiring a guide is Rp 100,000.

Tourists will also be invited to see the economic activities of fishermen at Karya Segara beach.

The fishermen, who are part of a savings and credit cooperative, which has about 40 members, sell soft coral to several countries. Patut said that soft coral harms other types of coral, and so collecting it supported the efforts to preserve the coral reef garden.

The group also cultivates aquarocks, or rocks to decorate aquariums. The process of making such rocks is similar to that for making the plates or stools for the coral reefs garden, using cements and filler.

The rocks are then planted in the sea so that sea biota, a kind of algae, grows on them. After between three and six months, they can be harvested and sold for about Rp 8,000 per kilogram.

Patut said many visitors from various areas had come to Serangan to learn about coral transplantation. They included government officials who wanted develop similar projects in their regions and high school students who came for their scientific projects.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Climate change blamed for Caribbean coral deaths

LONDON, June 10 (Reuters) - Climate change has contributed to a flattening of the complex, multi-layered architecture of Caribbean coral reefs, compromising their role as a nursery for fish stocks and a buffer against tropical storms, a study shows.

The analysis of 500 surveys of 200 reefs, conducted between 1969 and 2008, showed the most complex types of reef had been virtually wiped out across the entire Caribbean.

Such reefs -- typified by Table Corals of over 1 metre across and huge antler-shaped Staghorn Corals -- act as a sanctuary for local fish stocks and a hunting ground for larger, commercially fished species.

Many have been replaced with the flattest types of rubble-strewn reef, which now cover about three quarters of the Caribbean's reef area, up from about a fifth in the 1970s, said the study, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

The biggest impact has occurred in the last decade, said the report by researchers from Britain's University of East Anglia and Canada's Simon Fraser University.

"Lack of ... refuges for species with commercial importance, such as lobsters and large fishes may compromise the long-term sustainability of fisheries and fishing communities," the report said.

Flatter reefs are also less effective in protecting coastal homes and villages from storm swells and tidal surges.

"The importance of this is going to increase," said Lorenzo Alvarez of the University of East Anglia, who led the study. "Many scientists think there will be more hurricanes in the future."

The degradation of Caribbean reefs is not entirely linked to climate change, with disease killing about 90 percent of Elkhorn and Staghorn Corals in the 1970s, but a second period of coral destruction is now under way.

New damage is typified by "coral bleaching", which occurs when the tiny organisms that build coral reefs become stressed and abandon their colonies.

"We suggest that the last period of decline is partly due to climate change, but also due to several other human impacts such as over-fishing and coastal development," Alvarez said. "In future, we'll need to change our behaviour and reduce the stress on the reefs."
 

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WWII-era ship intentionally sunk to create reef off Key West now open for the public to use
30 May 2009

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) - A retired Air Force missile-tracking ship intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary opened to the public Saturday.

The 523-foot-long Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg is situated about seven miles south of Key West. The bottom of the ship's hull rests on sand in depths that average 145 feet. But the ship is so massive that the superstructure begins about 45 feet below the surface.

"I've dove a lot of ships," said Tom Kanczuzewski of South Bend, Ind., after surfacing Saturday. "This is the ship of all ships. I'd love to come back in a year and see all the fishes."

Saturday morning, a lone barracuda patrolled the superstructure of the ship that once tracked the U.S. space program's launches off Cape Canaveral, monitored U.S. defense missile test launches and eavesdropped on Russian missile launches during the Cold War.

But project organizers think it's just a matter of days before more marine life takes up residence.

The wreck is already fulfilling its promise of attracting visitors to the Florida Keys.

"We have calls coming in from as far as Germany and Norway from people planning to come just to dive this wreck," said Bob Holston, owner of Dive Key West and president of the Keys Association of Dive Operators. "We have more pre-bookings for the summer now than we've had in 38 years of being in business."

Dive instructor Megan Collins thinks the Vandenberg's mammoth size should be appealing to scuba divers of different skill sets.

"It's the possibilities for people of all levels without having to jeopardize their safety," she said. "There's so much to look at on the superstructure of the Vandenberg that no matter your temptation, you don't have to go inside."

Project initiator Joe Weatherby, who 13 years ago chose the Vandenberg from 400 ships rusting away in mothball fleets across the country, was ecstatic after his dive.

"I think it's exactly what we planned it to be," Weatherby said after helping Monroe County Commissioner Mario Di Gennaro crack a champagne bottle against a ship stanchion 70 feet below to celebrate the project's completion. "It's the world's best wreck dive."
 

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Fish, environment boom at Italy's Portofino park

PORTOFINO, Italy, June 5 (Reuters) - The chic Italian seaside resort of Portofino may be known for its postcard-perfect views and celebrities, but deep underwater, the rich sea life is also claiming a name of its own.

The sea off the Ligurian coast hosts an underwater treasure trove of moray eels, grouper fish, bream, mullet, red starfish, hundreds of yellow cluster sea "daisies" and red coral adding bursts of colour against dark green algae-covered rocks.

In the last 10 years, since the Protected Marine Area of Portofino was founded, fish populations have grown as some activities became regulated or even banned, local officials, enviromentalists, fishermen and divers said.

Although they said it was difficult to quantify, all noted a difference.

"Some fish that were not there before have now reappeared," said Giorgio Fanciulli, director of the marine protected area.

"For those that were caught through fishing when diving, something that's now banned, it means they have come back in significant numbers."

SPECIAL PERMITS

The 374-hectare (924.2 acres) protected area runs from the town of Camogli around the promontory of Portofino, where colourful houses huddle around its little harbour.

The area is divided into zone A, which no one can enter, and zones B and C, each with their own rules. Boats need to anchor in specific areas, scuba divers are limited in numbers in the 20 diving spots and sport fishermen need special permits.

"There was a lot of opposition at first, because it was feared that everything would be forbidden. Now things have changed," Fanciulli said.

Simone Gambazza, a fisherman from the town of Camogli, said he had been wary of the protected area at first but has welcomed some of the rules. Gambazza and his colleagues practice fishing net techniques that go back centuries.

"As fishermen, we are happier that we don't have boats crossing us at nights. Sometimes, they wouldn't have any lights on, or it would be people coming back drunk," he said.

"Also the fish are less disturbed now."

The Portofino promontory has been known as diving spot for years. It even has a statue of Christ, 18 metres underwater.

"The quality of the dives has improved 100 percent," said Roberto Bacigalupi, who opened his B&B diving centre some 20 years ago. "Before you wouldn't see the grouper you see today."

He said that other environmental factors have also helped the fish grow in numbers.

There are 26 protected marine areas in Italy and only some have enjoyed major success like Portofino, Fanciulli said.

"Ten work well, five or six work very well, and that includes Portofino," he said.

The operation also seeks to boost tourism and launches various initiatives, such as a coastline dedicated only to swimmers.
 

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Scientists are trying to save coral reefs. Here's what's working.
National Geographic Excerpt
June 4, 2020

The world’s coral reefs do more for the planet than provide underwater beauty.

They buffer shorelines from the effects of hurricanes. An estimated 500 million people earn their livelihoods from the fishing stocks and tourism opportunities reefs provide. The tiny animals that give rise to reefs are even offering hope for new drugs to treat cancer and other diseases.

Despite their importance, warming waters, pollution, ocean acidification, overfishing, and physical destruction are killing coral reefs around the world. Schemes to save those reefs are as creative as they are varied; most recently, scientists released data showing that marine protected areas can help save reefs if they are placed in just the right spots. Genetics is also becoming a larger area of coral research, giving scientists hope they might one day restore reefs with more heat tolerant coral.

But now, in the lead-up to World Oceans Day on June 8, scientists caution that these and other strategies may only buy reefs time until world leaders implement aggressive climate change action.

Without a mix of long-term cuts in emissions and short-term innovation, there’s a not-so-far-off future where coral reefs as we know them simply cease to exist, says Anne Cohen, a coral expert at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.

More : Scientists are trying to save coral reefs. Here's what's working.
 

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With pristine reefs at stake, Cuba bets on coral nurseries
Excerpt
June 10, 2020

HAVANA (Reuters) - Luminous yellow and blue fish dart through the fragments of coral hanging from rows of pipes anchored to the seabed in Guanahacabibes, in western Cuba, while scientists in diving gear annotate their observations on waterproof clipboards.

This is Cuba’s first coral nursery, designed to help the country repopulate its reefs, some of the most pristine in the Caribbean, and make them more resilient in the face of global threats to coral like warming waters, overfishing and illness.

The nursery was created three years ago through a landmark collaboration between the Cuban and Florida aquaria during a short-lived Cuba-U.S. detente since rolled back by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“We want to recover the reefs’ original functions and health,” Pedro Pablo Chevalier, head of the Biodiversity Department of the National Aquarium in Havana, told Reuters.

Corals are animals that settle on the ocean floor and support more sea life than any other marine environment. They also draw huge numbers of tourists, scientists and divers, and provide a natural barrier to flooding.

More : With pristine reefs at stake, Cuba bets on coral nurseries
 
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