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Island News Updates

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From coral reef cures to climate change lawsuits, there have been many recent happenings in the world of islands. Read on for summaries of island news...

Medical Cures in Coral Reefs?

Among the many reasons to protect coral reefs--including the staggering biodiversity these "rainforests of the sea" contain, and their increasingly endangered status around the world--an unexpected boon from reefs may be their burgeoning contributions to the field of medicine. From anti-inflammatory drugs to sunblock, coral reefs already provide compounds for many medical products, and scientists believe they likely hold many more. Read this Grist interview with two doctors who are studying the role coral reefs may play in the health of humans--as well as the oceans.

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A diver on a Seacology trip explores a coral reef. Photo by Sylvia Earle. 


Good News from Cabilao, Philippines

Last year, Seacology funded a project on Cabilao Island, in the Philippines, to help protect the local coral reefs and marine ecosystems. Our project included a 50-acre extension on an existing marine protected area in exchange for funding to renovate an antique lighthouse, to be used as a display facility for locally produced handicrafts. Our Philippines Field Representative Ferdie Marcelo recently returned from Cabilao with an update on the community's work. They have finished the renovations, and are continuing to monitor the MPA and increase their handicraft market. Read Ferdie's fascinating blog post for details about our Cabilao Island project.

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The newly renovated Cabilao lighthouse. Photo by Ferdie Marcelo. 

 Federated States of Micronesia Intervenes Over Climate Change

Scattered across the South Pacific, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is an island nation that includes the states of Chuuk, Yap, Kosrae, and Pohnpei. Comprised mostly of small, low-lying islands, FSM is already experiencing some of the devastating effects of climate change, which will only increase in the years to come. But at the Threatened Island Nations Conference held last week in New York City, FSM detailed the legal action it took in January 2010 against a large power station in the Czech Republic, on the grounds that the plant's pollution contributed to the climate change that was harming island nations like FSM. Although the Czech court did not end up agreeing with FSM, it has taken some steps in response to FSM's plea for action against climate change. Read more about this precedent-setting case here.  

A recent 30-year civil war in Sri Lanka ravaged the nation's people, leaving 22% of families without income and 38% of youth without schools. The war also resulted in substantial destruction to coastal swamps and the native mangrove ecosystems. But a new exhibit organized by our affiliate, Seacology UK, showcases the natural beauty of this struggling country--as well as the great fortitude of its people.

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Seacology's Field Representative in the Philippines, Ferdie Marcelo, maintains a blog documenting his experiences working to conserve the rich natural resources and ecosystems in the Philippines. His most recent entry discusses the threat of slash-and-burn farming on the country's Palawan Island.

Often called the Philippines' last ecological frontier, Palawan's rich biodiversity is very impressive but also so very fragile. Yet for the month of April this year alone, in northern Palawan alone, the burning of swathes of mountain slopes was a near daily occurrence. Plumes of smoke could be seen from surrounding mountains signaling slash and burn activity. It was as if a concerted effort to destroy the island's capacity to support life is being waged.

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As school years wind to an end, you may be starting to plan summer vacations. This year, make your summer travel as earth-friendly as possible, with these helpful green travel tips:


  •  Travel of any kind--cars, planes, or even trains--creates carbon emissions that add to the harmful greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, increasing the negative effects of climate change. Reduce your impact by donating to a carbon offset fund. Seacology's Carbon Offset Fund supports alternative energy and reforestation island projects to offset your carbon emissions.

  • If you are visiting a coastal area, make sure to bring your sustainable seafood guidelines, which list which species are overfished and endangered and which are safe to eat. 

  • ARKive species - Northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus)
    Above, bluefin tuna, one of the most endangered fish species. 
  • Reduce plastic waste on your trip by bringing along a reusable water bottle and reusable bags.

  • Endangered species can sometimes turn up in meals or souvenirs--you don't want to accidentally bring home a keychain from a loggerhead sea turtle! Familiarize yourself with the world's most endangered species with the color photos and detailed information on ARKive.org

  • ARKive species - Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)
    Above, a loggerhead sea turtle. 
  • Get inspiration for exciting trip destinations at Trazzler.com, a Seacology supporter and leading travel website.

  • Consider joining Seacology on our upcoming trip to Chuuk, where we will explore underwater coral reefs, shipwrecks, and visit a Seacology project site. Picture2.jpg
    Above, the rainforest Seacology is protecting on Fefen Island in Chuuk. 

More Islands on Earth!

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At Seacology, we've known that our planet contains thousands of islands of all shapes and sizes. But a recent study has found that the number of barrier islands around the world has been greatly underestimated. Using satellite imagery, researchers detected 657 more barrier islands than previous surveys indicated, bringing the new total to 2,149. Barrier islands are found along the coasts of all continents except Antarctica, with 74% of them in the northern hemisphere. Together, these islands measure about 13,000 miles--over half the circumference of the Earth!

Barrier islands are important for humans and environments, providing protection against flooding, erosion, and storms. The bays, estuaries, and lagoons created by the islands contain abundant biodiversity. Because of their proximity to waves and tides, barrier islands are one of the most flexible landforms, regularly eroding, migrating, and rebuilding over time. Unfortunately, they are often the site of coastal development, which can be detrimental to these ecosystems.  

Although barrier islands are less common in the southern hemisphere, where most of Seacology's projects are located, we have many projects protecting mangrove swamps and other island coastal areas. Like barrier islands, mangroves are critical for flood and erosion prevention. Our new project near Uraniya Lagoon, Sri Lanka, is protecting 2,965 acres of mangroves and coastal swamp, including 642 acres of replanted mangroves. We also have recent mangrove replanting and protection projects in Tuvalu, Jamaica, and Kenya that conserve the coastal ecosystems as well as the inland habitats they guard.

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Above, a mangrove tree at Seacology's project in Jamaica. Photo credit Krishna Desai.

Don't forget to celebrate islands everything else in nature for Earth Day today! If you haven't already, head over to facebook and "Like" Seacology's partner Nina Designs--for every person who likes them by today, they'll donate $1 to Seacology!

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Celebrate Earth Day!

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Although islands cover just 5% of the world's land area, they contain over half of all recent species extinctions. Earth Day is next Friday, April 22, and it's the perfect time to celebrate our planet by helping protect these islands and their wildlife.

With only one click, you can do just that: Berkeley-based jewelry store Nina Designs, which supports fair trade and women's equality at their factories in Thailand and Bali, is raising funds for Seacology this Earth Day. For every person who "Likes" Nina Designs on Facebook before April 22, the store will donate $1 to Seacology. Click on the image below to go to the Nina Designs Facebook page--and be sure to share it with your friends!

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Rampant Rosewood Logging

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Of the many threats encountered by the world's islands, commercial logging is one of the most severe, rapidly decimating forests and the many species they harbor. While the clear-cutting style of logging (in which all trees in an area are uniformly cut down) may be the most infamous, even selective logging (or removing only certain species) can be a death knell in some regions. One of these is the island of Madagascar, where logging of rosewood trees has become a national crisis. 



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Above, a forest in Northeastern Madagascar containing rosewood trees. 

Within the animal kingdom, sharks are known for their sharp teeth, and their increasingly threatened conservation status due to the popularity of shark fin soup. But now, a study suggests that sharks are also unique for the importance they place on good hygiene and healthcare!

Scientists at Bangor University in Wales have observed thresher sharks (seen in image below) visiting shallow coral reef ecosystems near the Philippines for what appear to be full-body cleanings. Upon arriving at the reef, the sharks slow down and swim in a small circle, apparently to attract the cleaner wrasse, a small fish with excellent shark-grooming skills.

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One scientist describes the process as "a bit like a surgery...The sharks come in with cuts and scrapes where they might have scabs and these are treated by the cleaner wrasse, which remove dead tissue from the wound area and any parasites from the skin." The sharks remain for their cleaning for up to 45 minutes, swimming in small circles near the reef.

This shark medical care is just another example of the often surprising interactions between different species within an ecosystem. Unfortunately, with threats to sharks on the rise, sometimes a trip to the cleaner wrasse may have a tragic ending. The shallow reefs where these cleanings take place are often shared by fishermen, who either hunt the sharks (or, more brutally, remove only their fins), or use dynamite or hooks on other marine species, inadvertently killing the sharks along with them. These practices, along with irresponsible tourists who hurt the reefs while observing the sharks, also cause immense harm to the cleaner wrasse fish and all other species who depend on the coral reef.

Seacology has many projects that work to protect the sharks, fish, and other wildlife in the coral reefs of the Philippines and other areas around the world.

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Seacology Executive Director Duane Silverstein recently joined Seacology supporters on a dive trip in the Philippines. In addition to exploring the Philippines' vibrant coral reefs, they visited a Seacology project on Palawan Island, where Seacology worked with the El Nido Foundation, a local NGO, to set aside 1,317 acres of coral reef and 2,580 acres of mangrove forest. Seacology provided funds for guardhouses, patrol boats, marker buoys, and signs for the new reserve, as well as new equipment for their cashew processing industry, a sustainable alternative livelihood to fishing in the protected area. Learn more about our project on Palawan and recent Philippines expedition in our new video: 


Old Mother Albatross

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Many animal species are known for the intense labors they undergo for the sake of their offspring. Sea turtles travel for thousands miles to lay their eggs on the same beaches where they hatched. Male Emperor Penguins spend two months without food while incubating their eggs in the frigid Antarctic winter.  A recent discovery adds another bird--the albatross--to the ranks of these determined parents. 

The oldest known bird in the Northern Hemisphere is an albatross--a large seabird known for their massive wingspan (some can be up to 11 feet wide!). Recently, scientists made a surprising discovery about this ancient bird, appropriately named Wisdom: At the age of 60, rather than considering retirement, she is the proud mother of a new baby albatross!

Albatross lay only one egg a year, but scientists estimate that Wisdom has already raised at least 30 chicks in her lifetime. Many take a year off between parenting, and most albatross mate for life. Below, Wisdom is pictured with her newest baby. 

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