Recently in Biodiversity Category


It took me a few tries to wrap my head around this headline about a recent NOAA study:

US Residents Say Hawaii's Coral Reef Ecosystems Worth $33.57 Billion Per Year

Did you catch that? We often talk about the "worth" of coral reefs in terms of the revenue they can generate for local communities via fishing or tourism. But this is different. This is the amount of money Americans say they're willing to pay to ensure that Hawaii's reefs are safe and healthy.

Thumbnail image for DSC07965pEARLWALL1OCT07.JPGThe key point here is that the survey pool comprised "a representative sample of all US residents" -- meaning, it included tons of people who have never seen Hawaii's coral reefs and never will. They just like the idea that they exist!

In fact, when you look at per-household figures, it turns out they like it a lot.

The study breaks down coral reef conservation into two types: "Ecosystem-wide Protection & Restoration" and "Restoration after Localized Injuries." (That last one referring to fixing the damage caused by, say, wayward boats.) Put them together and the average amount a household is willing to pay is $287.62.

Sound like a lot? It is. Forgive the rough comparison, but say your household income is $50,000 (about the national median) and you're married with a kid. Two-hundred and eighty-seven dollars is more than you would pay in federal income taxes for everything other than Social Security and Medicare -- meaning national defense, health care, unemployment insurance, education, NASA, FEMA, Homeland Security, and so on, combined. And that's just for the coral reefs in Hawaii!

Who knows if these households are truly prepared to pony up $287 in the name of reef conservation. But even if the number is inflated, it suggests something quite interesting: it may be easy for us to not think about conservation, but it's apparently very difficult for us to choose inaction... so long as we're asked to choose something.




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We just got this GLOWING update via email from our field rep in Indonesia about the 99,000-acre marine reserve off the coast of Daram Island. (Seacology is funding the construction of a community center in nearby Fafanlap village in exchange for their support of the reserve)

It was so great we just had to share:

The last time I dived this site was with the Seacology trip in 2007 and while it was spectacular four years ago, the reef has exploded with fish life since then. For the first time we saw schools of Napoleon wrasse, blacktip sharks and aggregations of big grouper, all of which seem to have been locally extinct on most Indonesian reefs for over a decade. There were so many fish on this dive that our heads were spinning. I was emphatically pointing one way and Mark was emphatically pointing another way the whole dive. I came out of that dive exhilarated and full of joy and hope that other reefs in the Misool area, with continued protection, will also look like Fafanlap in just a few short years. If they do, I can foresee that S.E. Misool will have THE best diving in the world, hands down.




This Times article about Haiti's dying reefs I think illustrates an important point about marine conservation efforts: it's not necessarily a case of environmentalism-vs-industry. You need to protect reef habitats in order to prevent the kind of "Tragedy of the Commons" scenario we're seeing unfolding in Haiti, where over-fishing continues even when it's obvious it's bad for everyone in the long run.
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In Haiti 54,000 fishermen rely on the ocean for their livelihood... [and in] recent decades, as their usual catches of Nassau groupers and snappers have dwindled and disappeared, many of them have subsisted by netting and spearing small reef fish that keep coral clean of algae. Now those too are almost gone, and the algae have taken over....

Pierre Guy LaFontant, Haiti's director general of fisheries, acknowledged that overfishing was a problem and said that officials were receptive to the idea of establishing protected waters. But if the government cannot enforce its existing fishing regulations, can fishermen be persuaded to abide by an invisible line in the water?

But of course it's not as simple as just protecting and waiting, since these Haitian fishermen have basic short-term needs that can't easily be put on hold.

Henry Hilaire, who has fished for 36 years, gathered nets from a sailboat with several other Haitians in waters that Reef Check hopes will eventually be protected.... Mr. Hilaire pulled two small fish, each about five inches long, from his basket. "It's really too young to keep," he said, but "circumstances are such that if we didn't keep them, we'd go hungry."....

They're desperate, trying to survive, so how do you tell them not to fish here?" asked Romain Louis, 37, a literature teacher hoping to become part of the eco-diver team.

Mr. Louis suggested that the fishermen would need an incentive... "Maybe, if these fishermen got a trade-off, they'd stop fishing on overfished reefs."

The whole article is worth a read... As bad as things are for Haiti's coral reefs, it's good to know that conservation efforts are beginning.

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Seacology is funding the construction of a new community center in Banjar Anyar, a small village on Indonesia's island of Bali. Part of the agreement is that the good pepole of Banjar Anyar continue to serve as the guardians of the surrounding Batukahu Forest.

So what kinds of creatures are being protected? Here's a quick tour of some of Batukahu Forest's residents:

The forest cat has big eyes and is very ferocious, while the long-tailed macaque looks a little sad, but their babies are adorable.

Meanwhile, the pangolin looks a lot like an armadillo, and the flying fox (AKA the kalong) is not a fox at all, but instead a rather large bat.

Hottest of the Hotspots

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Worldwide, scientists have identified ecological "hotspots," or regions with significant biodiversity that are facing dire threats from humans. With their abundance of unique plants and animals, islands are often numbered about the planet's hotspots, but now one set of islands is calling itself "the hottest of the hotspots."  The Philippines, an archipelago in Southeast Asia containing over 7,000 islands, is one of the world's most diverse places, but because of human activity, the rate of species is extinction is about 1,000 times the natural rate, said Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In the Philippines, as in many islands, the primary threat is from habitat loss due to deforestation and coral reef destruction. It is estimated that less than six percent of the Philippines' original forests remain intact, along with only five percent of its marine habitats, and these practices continue to destroy the remaining environments. At least on land, the country is seeking to stem this tide of biodiversity loss, with reforestation programs. But the country lacks cannot afford to adequately protect all its marine and coastal areas from destruction, and threats to both forest and coral reefs continue to multiply.


ARKive species - Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) ARKive species - Balabac mouse deer (Tragulus nigricans)   
Above, two of the Philippines' many endangered species: the Philippine Eagle and the Balabac Mouse-Deer.

Madagascar's Silky Sifakas

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Worldwide, islands harbor some of our planet's most rare and fascinating species. The island of Madagascar, located off the eastern coast of Africa, is no exception. With abundant biodiversity, the island provides a home to 8 plant families, 4 bird families, and 5 primate families that are endemic, or found nowhere else on earth. One of Madagascar's most famed endemic species is the lemur, a small primate found in the island's forests.

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State of the Birds

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Found on every continent and on islands around the world, birds are one of our planet's most magnificent creatures. But today, bird species face existential threats from climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, and other environmental disasters. With the release of the 2010 "State of the Birds" report, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided an up-to-date accounting of the potential effects of climate change on birds--and arrived at chilling conclusions. 

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island.JPGIn 2010, Seacology joins the United Nations and many international conservation organizations as a partner of the "International Year of Biodiversity," with the purpose of celebrating and safeguarding the variety of life on earth. Working within this worldwide network, we hope to highlight the importance of preserving biodiversity, and particularly the ecological richness found on islands where Seacology works. 

One Cubic Foot of Biodiversity

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Last week, I had the pleasure of attending an exhibit of photographer David Littschwager's work at Cavallo Point Lodge near Sausalito, California. Littschwager is known for his images of flora and fauna around the world. His most recent work, known as "One Cubic Foot," depicts wildlife from ecosystems worldwide. In each location, Littschwager photographed every species he could find in a cubic foot. The resulting images are a lifelike index of biodiversity. When blown up in proportion, the tiny beetles, crabs, and centipedes are revealed in their true glory; many of these creatures boast vibrant colors and patterns that would be unnoticed without Littschwager's perceptive lens.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that, as far as conserving biodiversity goes, Seacology is on the right track. The species richness on islands is 8 to 9 times greater than that of mainland environments according to this study performed by Holger Kreft and colleagues at the University of Bonn, UC San Diego and the University of Applied Sciences Eberswalde. To read more about this fascinating topic please see the associated article, Islands top a global list of places to protect, as well as the actual study, A global assessment of endemism and species richness across island and mainland regions.