SeaWeb Urges New Action for Coral
SeaWeb's Too Precious to Wear campaign is urging consumers to boycott red and pink coral products following international failure to agree protective measures for the coral species. SeaWeb/Marine Photobank
SeaWeb's Too Precious to Wear campaign is reaffirming its call for consumers not to buy any red and pink corals (Coralliidae) until or unless adequate trade protection measures are in place to prevent their depletion. The call comes in response to the decision by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) not to grant protection to red and pink corals at its meeting in Doha, Qatar, in March, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that international trade is impacting their numbers. For example, in the past 15 years, landings of pink and red coral in the Pacific have plummeted from between 100 and 400 tons a year to just five, despite continued demand.
Sweden (on behalf of the European Union) and the United States proposed that red and pink corals be listed on Appendix II of CITES, a move that would not have banned trade in these species but would have ensured that that trade was subject to strict monitoring and regulation. Although a plurality of votes supported the proposal, it did not secure the two-thirds majority necessary for passage.
Kristian Teleki, vice president for Science Initiatives at SeaWeb, told Ocean Update that, “We are urging people not to buy red and pick corals because there is no guarantee they have been sustainably harvested.” Pink and red corals are used primarily in jewelry and decorative items; necklaces made from the smoothed and polished skeletons of red or pink corals can fetch up to US$25,000.
“Corals are the building blocks of many ocean ecosystems, and the science is clear: They are at great risk,” said Dawn Martin, president of SeaWeb. “And now, since action was not taken at CITES, red and pink coral populations will continue to decline at an alarming rate unless conscientious consumers and jewelers allow these species to recover.”
The vote marked the second consecutive occasion on which CITES has failed to protect red and pink corals. At its previous meeting, in the Netherlands in 2007, CITES members initially voted to place these species on Appendix II but then overturned that decision in a secret ballot—the first time in CITES’ history that a decision to give species this level of trade protection had been so reversed. (The second occasion took place at the most recent meeting, when a decision to place the porbeagle shark on Appendix II was overturned). Given CITES’ successive failures to protect corals, Teleki said, SeaWeb and others “will continue our efforts to move markets and domestic legislation to monitor and regulate the pink and red coral import and trade.”
For Further Information: Full information on SeaWeb's Too Precious to Wear campaign is available at www.tooprecioustowear.org. The campaign’s post-CITES press release, and links to other CITES-related material, including SeaWeb’s blog from the meeting, can be found at http://www.seaweb.org/markets/cites.php.
Sea Level Rise Will Claim Island States
The Maldives, possibly the planet's lowest-lying country, has an average elevation just one meter above sea level. Its 1,192 coral islands are threatened by sea level rise caused by climate change.NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
Several island states will likely physically disappear during the coming century, a phenomenon that “has not previously been seen in modern history,” notes a recent paper in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management. The paper's authors, Lilian Yamamoto of Kanagawa University and Miguel Esteban of Kyoto University, note that, although “many nations have come and gone,” such changes have been to political realignment rather than physical elimination. That fate, they say, awaits countries built on low-lying atolls—such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean—as a result of sea-level rise.
Satellite observations suggest that average sea level is increasing by 3 millimeters a year. Models predict that, by the end of the 21st century, the Maldives, for example, may experience a sea level rise of 20 inches (50 centimeters). Increased sea levels could flood these atolls, rising saltwater tables could destroy deep-rooted food crops, while a combination of increasing temperatures and ocean acidification could kill the coral reefs that form these islands.
The principal concerns raised by that prospect are the environmental consequences and the immense social upheaval, including the sociological and psychological devastation of literally losing one's country. But Yamamoto and Esteban also address a legal issue. If a country disappears physically, does its sovereignty necessarily disappear with it? If so, at what point does that occur: once there is no functioning government, when it can no longer sustain a population, or not until it has completely disappeared beneath the waves? Would it be possible for, say, Tuvalu to maintain a government-in-exile?
The question, the authors argue, is not strictly academic. They write that it is not inconceivable that, at some point in the future, such atolls could reemerge if nations take mitigating measures—specifically, if global greenhouse gases are significantly reduced to a point where average global temperatures decline and sea levels begin to fall. Should that happen, they conclude, then the descendants of those who were forced to abandon their countries could reclaim the land that was once their ancestors'.
Source: Yamamato, L., and M. Esteban. 2010. Vanishing island states and sovereignty. Ocean and Coastal Management 53: 1–9.
Contact: Lilian Yamamato, Kanagawa University, Japan. E-mail: email@example.com
For Further Information: The future of islands is the subject of a conference, Islands 2010: First International Conference on Island Sustainability, to be held in Croatia, April 19–21. Details can be found at http://www.wessex.ac.uk/10-conferences/islands-2010.html.
Oxygen Levels in the Ocean May Decline as Global Temperatures Rise
|These coral reefs off Florida are covered with red and green algae and other vegetation indicative of excessive nutrients – the first signs of hypoxia, or low oxygen levels in the water. Researchers say such areas in the ocean may be increasing because of climate change.
William Djubin/Marine Photobank
Large areas of the deep ocean could become essentially devoid of oxygen as a consequence of climate change, according to a recent study by American, German and Swiss scientists published in the Annual Review of Marine Science. Ralph Keeling of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and colleagues note that oxygen is less soluble in warmer water and also that as the upper ocean warms, it stratifies. As a consequence, not only would surface waters of the ocean contain potentially less dissolved oxygen, but also less of that oxygen would be able to mix with lower water layers. In the worst-case scenario, the ocean could effectively stagnate: deep-sea organisms would continue to consume the oxygen in the water column, until, during a period of several decades, oxygen levels in large expanses of the ocean's depths would drop to close to zero.
Keeling and colleagues note that this process, anoxia, is an extremely rare occurrence in the water column. However, they state, areas in which oxygen levels have been depleted to a lesser degree are present over wide expanses of the North Pacific and in smaller regions of the eastern tropical Atlantic and Pacific, the South Pacific and North Indian oceans. These are often the result of high rates of phytoplankton growth leading to increased oxygen consumption in subsurface waters. Such oxygen-depleted areas in coastal and estuarine waters are often exacerbated by the effects of nutrient or sewage pollution.
“A major concern,” the authors write, “is that these so-called oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) will expand in the future as the upper ocean warms and becomes more stratified.” Indeed, they say, there is evidence that this is beginning to happen—most notably in the OMZs in the North Pacific and the tropics. In the North Pacific, researchers have correlated decreased levels of oxygen to increased stratification in the subarctic region on the ocean, and Keeling and colleagues write that these observed changes are in line with the predicted response to warming in global ocean models. Although the changes in the tropical regions were less expected, the fact that OMZs were apparently larger in those regions during previous warm periods suggests, according to the authors, that these declines “may also be tied to global warming.”
Source: Keeling, R.F., et al. 2010. Ocean deoxygenation in a warming world. Annual Review of Marine Science 2: 199–229.
Contact: Ralph Keeling, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forested Wetlands Essential Components of Coastal Ecosystems
| Research has found that protection of forested wetlands (such as these in Kosrae, a Federated State of Micronesia) is crucial to maintaining mangroves.
Mangrove forests have long been widely recognized as habitat vital for a wide range of species, as protection for coastal regions from storms and flooding, and as important components of the subsistence way of life of local peoples. Much has also been written about the threats they face from infringing coastal development, their being cut down to make room for shrimp farms and other human impacts. But a new paper in the journal Frontiers of Ecology and Environment argues that far less attention has been paid to the freshwater forested wetlands that frequently lie just upslope from mangroves and, as a consequence, they are often subject to development even as adjacent mangroves are protected.
This matters, writes Katherine Ewel of the University of Florida, not only because these forested wetlands, like the mangroves, provide a host of ecosystem goods and services to local peoples. It matters also for the mangroves, which rely on steady flows of freshwater to survive and thrive. Should water flows be interrupted or halted—through, for example, the damming of a coastal river—the resulting changes may at first be subtle, not even visible for years or even decades. Yet such changes in water flow may ultimately lead to, for example, levels of water salinity higher than mangroves can tolerate and therefore alter the forests' composition.
“As plans for coastal development are made, attention is generally focused on mangrove forests,” Ewel concludes. “However, sharp eyes must also watch any adjacent wetlands to ensure the continued integrity of the entire wetland complex.”
Source: Ewel, K.C. 2010. Appreciating tropical coastal wetlands from an ecosystem perspective. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 8(1): 20–26.
Contact: Katherine Ewel, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida. E-mail: email@example.com.
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