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Covering more than 70% of the earth’s surface, the world’s oceans contain an ecosystem that not only spans the globe in equatorial and adjacent temperate seas, but is also of incredible biodiversity and beauty. Coral reefs, and more specifically the stony corals, which play an integral role in helping to build and maintain the world’s coral reefs, will be our focus. However, keep in mind that much of what is discussed in this brief review is applicable in part, if not entirely, to the myriad of other marine organisms that are also part of our coral reef ecosystems.
Before continuing with our focus on stony corals, a brief review of a few relative points will give one a better perspective and understanding regarding the utilization of seashells in commercial trade. Seashells, which can be divided into two basic groups – snails/gastropods & clams/bivalves – represent not only the largest number of different species, but also by far and away the greatest quantity & volume of biomass utilized in commercial trade. This should not be surprising when one understands the majority of shells, as well as virtually all the larger species utilized for commercial and decorative purposes are by-products of cottage and commercial food fisheries. In other words, regardless of whether the shells are utilized or not, they will continue to be harvested for both local and commercial consumption. With the preceding in mind, it can then be better understood why resources available for environmental, population, sustainable yield surveys and management (and not eco-bureaucratic flag waving) should be directed first and primarily towards the regulation and management of food fisheries.
Some interesting points and information is listed under Did You Know? Under Tideline you are given a short synopsis of import protocol, and our orientation and involvement regarding ecological and environmental issues. A new and just recently implemented Mariculture program to produce larger corals for the gift & decorative trades under Coral Farming is outlined. Principal and Environmental Issues review Global Warming, Ocean Acidification and Mass Bleaching.
Taking an active role with source suppliers is important, but even more so with stony coral supply and importation. Over the years Tideline’s “hands on” involvement with suppliers in Asia and the Indo-Pacific has not only been integral with our success – but has helped develop more selective sustainable yield collecting, efficient transport, packing and shipping with our current source. As a result, the need to replace poor quality or damaged material has been virtually eliminated. Working with export management authorities and providing regular and consistent support to local fishermen can also shift and reduce pressure from other more extreme and environmentally detrimental fishing practices.
Understanding the importance and having a strict sense of obligation regarding coral reef ecosystems and their ecology, Tideline has always closely followed both U.S. and international import & export protocol. All documentation from the country of origin and CITES permits, when required, are submitted to USF&W and US Customs during formal entry or re-export procedures.
Since 1988 Tideline has supported Professor Edward Tarvyd’s attendance at CITES (Conference of the Parties held internationally every 2-3 years). From CITES conventions in Kyoto to the most recent in Qatar, Ed has successfully represented our trade via Acropora. As an NGO representative, Ed has been asked on several occasions, by a CITES member country, to speak on their behalf regarding issues involving the trade of coral reef animals. Ed’s expertise, along with his easy going and congenial personality has allowed him to help fill a void between environmental activists and hard-line trade interests.
With today’s Aquaculture and Mariculture programs producing almost exclusively smaller corals ( < 5”) in ever increasing quantities, supply now meets if not exceeds the limited gift & decorative market demand. As a result, our attention is now focused on the development and implementation of a Mariculture program to produce larger (5”>) corals for the gift & decorative trades. Generally defined – Mariculture is the growing or cultivation of marine fauna and flora in a relocated, marine environment, which could be a natural but more protected bay or open pond environment to a fully controlled closed aquarium system.
The initial implementation of our specific Mariculture or Coral Farming program will be in a natural, but more protected lagoon environment. Lagoon areas with little or no coral coverage will be utilized, thus providing a habitat that is in a lower energy-zone, has fewer competitive species and is more accessible to attendant supervision.
Fragments (similar to the analogous gardening term cuttings) of the more vigorous and faster growing species of Acropora and Pocillipora will be tethered in place with an expected initial harvest before the end of 2012.
Certainly there are other areas of ecological concern that threaten the world’s coral reefs. What might be termed local threats are again human induced disturbances that negatively impact specific or localized reef areas. Local threats include: 1) sedimentation resulting from poorly managed coastal development, 2) deforestation and other disturbance of watershed areas, 3) unprocessed sewage discharge, 4) nutrient loading and eutrification from agrochemicals, 5) coral mining for local building materials and 6) over-fishing. These areas of concern should be regulated and managed by local wildlife and environmental agencies, and if needed, international management authorities can also be consulted and utilized.
However, only addressing the preceding environmental issues is in reality no more than temporarily dressing a festering wound. Mass Bleaching and the specter of Ocean Acidification as consequences of higher ocean temperatures are now recognized if not as direct manifestations, at least correlated to Global Warming. So, again we are back to what must be considered the core environmental issue – Global Warming. Though many of the causative factors and how they can and should be dealt with are still being determined and or hotly debated, some critical definitive issues that can be addressed are: 1) mankind’s continued and seemingly unabated population increase, 2) energy sources that are cleaner and more efficient, 3) better controls and methods implemented in the world’s continuing industrialization, and finally 4) the realization that Global Warming may also be influenced by factors beyond our control such as a natural climate change, as has been the case in past millennia.