Coral Reefs: October 2007 Archives
I just returned from 2 weeks in Indonesia and what a trip it was. I went there to visit five Seacology projects, check out the diving in Raja Ampat and sample the culture in Bali. The trip started on the island of Sulawesi.
Once called the Celebes, this has got to be one of the oddest shaped large islands in the world (right). It looks as if you put a jigsaw puzzle piece in an electric outlet. As a result its coastline is enormous.
From the northern Sulawesi city of Manado the Seacology group took a short boat ride to the striking, cone shaped island of Manado Tua. One look at this island and there is no doubt that it is of volcanic origin. We got there at low tide and so we had to hike the last 30 yards to shore. The trip had barely begun when a new site presented itself. Several pigs were grazing in the water on the low growing sea grass. Yes, we really did see pigs grazing in the ocean, and no we were not drinking.
I ran across this tidbit while cleaning out my inbox; corals have been added to the IUCN Red List for the first time. The coral pictured in this news item from National Geographic is the Floreana coral - one of ten corals found near the Galapagos Islands that have been added to the list of threatened species. A startling fact also mentioned in the above item is that coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Ocean are vanishing faster than rain forests.
I was lucky enough to visit the Galapagos when I was 10, the summer between 5th and 6th grade - too young to fully appreciate where I was, but old enough to still think it was pretty cool. My aunt, my mother's youngest sister, lived on the Galapagos for 13 years and worked as a herpetologist for the Charles Darwin Research Center. Her love was, and is, tortoises - the giant tortoises of the Galapagos being the subject of her Ph.D. thesis. So not only did I get to visit these incredible islands, including a week long boat tour, I had a member of my family as an expert guide.
When the Seacology staff decided to venture into the world of blogging, we each reflected upon what our specialties would be... As a generalist and news junkie who loves to scan headlines, I set up some Google News alerts with keywords such as "coral reef," "island environment," "island conservation" etc. I now receive an email each day with various headlines and links to news websites and blogs containing these terms.
I am hooked! There is the odd, random story that has nothing to do with Seacological matters, but I have followed several fascinating stories in the past few weeks. Here are a few...
Today, islands are home to the greatest number of endangered species on the planet. More, in fact, than all of the great continents combined. As a matter of fact, in the past 500 years, 62 percent of all mammal and 88 percent of all bird extinctions have been island species. Further, The National Academy of Sciences published the results of an independent study of extinction hotspots around the world in 2006, and every one of the top ten sites is on an island.
Due to the self-contained nature of island environments, their ecosystems are so vulnerable to damage caused by introduced species, inappropriate development, pollution and global warming. Island coral reefs, mangroves and rainforests, which hold an astounding array of marine and terrestrial life, are among the world's most threatened ecosystems. Yet because individual islands are often small and remote, little philanthropic and non-profit resources have been devoted to preserving island biodiversity.
To combat this global crisis, Seacology was formed as an international nonprofit organization with staff in 1999. Since then, we have launched an incredible 160 island-based projects, saving 1,780,486 acres of marine ecosystems and 101,446 acres of incredibly precious terrestrial habitat on 90 islands in 41 countries worldwide. Seacology's mission is to preserve island habitats along with island cultures around the world. With this goal, we endeavor to reverse the trend of island wildlife, plant life, and marine life extinctions globally, fostering biodiversity worldwide while supporting historic island cultures.
Jonny Hogg has written a very interesting article regarding the tension between the environment and tourism development in Mauritius. It's a good snapshot of how the Indian Ocean island nation is caught between economic sustainability and conservation - a dilemma facing countless islands throughout the world.
I traveled to Micronesia in June and July of this year to visit Seacology projects on Kosrae, Chuuk, Yap and Palau. I was struck by the fact that those islands are relatively unspoiled largely due to their remoteness - especially after overnighting in Honolulu, which was particularly depressing and full of island development "don'ts." After the decline in tourism from the US and Asia, Micronesia is struggling to attract visitors to its natural wonders. So far, for the most part development has been slow and careful - too slow for many. However, Palau, with its proximity to Asia, has a fairly thriving tourism economy. The Palau Conservation Society, our project partner there, has worked to help create responsible tourism standards and have trained numerous guides regarding environmentally friendly ways to expose visitors to the nation's marine and terrestrial wonders. This sort of successful collaboration between private tourism and conservation organizations is an ideal way to safeguard the natural treasures of islands.