Selected tags: Marine Protection

EDF Recognizes World Oceans Day

Rahel Marsie-Hazen, Howard University Fellow

Today, June 8, 2012 marks the fourth World Oceans Day.  The United Nations established this special day both to celebrate and pay tribute to the mighty body of water that covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and contains 97% of the planet’s water. The world’s oceans generate most of the oxygen we breathe, regulate our climate, clean the water we drink and house potential medicines for illnesses.

Let’s not forget that our oceans also provide us with seafood, which plays an integral role in the food security of billions of people worldwide. Small and large communities in many regions of the world depend on fish as a primary source of protein. For many, it provides an invaluable supplement for diversified and healthy diets. Our oceans also support the fishing industry, which provides an important means of income for millions of people and their families.

Our oceans do a great deal for us and on this day we must recognize that they are in serious trouble. According to the 2010 State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report, more than 80% of global fisheries are fully or over exploited. But the tide is turning in American fisheries. Fisheries management reform and best practices are nursing these fisheries back to health—rebounding fish stocks, returning job stability and providing consumers with fresh and sustainably caught seafood. And this is definitely excellent news to celebrate. Happy World Oceans Day.

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60 Minutes and Cuban Reefs

Underwater photo of elk horn coral and reef fish in the Gardens of the Queen marine park in Cuba.

Elkhorn coral and reef fish in the Gardens of the Queen marine park in Cuba.

Hats off to CBS for the recent “60 Minutes” segment on the coral reefs of the “Gardens of the Queen” (Jardines de la Reina) in Cuba!

The Gardens of the Queen is a spectacular national park off the south central coast of Cuba.  EDF has had the privilege of working with Cuban scientists and resource managers in the park for several years.  Just this past November we teamed up with Cuban partners there to host an international workshop on fisheries management and marine protected areas.  In 2012 we will partner with Cuban scientists to study the benefits on fish populations from restricting most fisheries inside the park.

The 60 Minutes piece highlights the good work Cubans are doing to protect marine ecosystems and the challenges that lie ahead.  I was especially impressed with the work of CBS producer Anya Bourg to ensure that the piece was rigorous – as much as possible – in its treatment of complex scientific issues.  Explaining complicated and often subtle relationships in plain and compelling language is a real feat!

For the most part, 60 Minutes got it right.  Let me expand on two key themes from the piece, based on work we are doing with Cuban scientists to help understand the lessons from the Gardens of the Queen. Read More »

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Twenty Years of Coastal Research and Conservation in Cuba

Mangroves in the Gardens of the Queen National Park provide important fish habitat.

Mangroves in the Gardens of the Queen National Park provide important fish habitat.

Congratulations to my friends at the Cuban Center for Coastal Ecosystem Research in Cayo Coco, Cuba.  On November 28, the Center celebrated its 2oth anniversary –20 years of conducting critical research on Cuba’s rich and diverse coastal ecosystems.  Last month, the Center’s founder Celso Pazos Alberdi, and director Adán Zuñiga Rios, invited me and several colleagues to visit the Center to get a first-hand look at what they do.

The Center, which is housed in the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment, provides much of the science that policy makers and managers use to develop environmental policies and programs for coastal areas.  Their work is also aimed at ensuring that tourism and other economic development in coastal areas is environmentally sustainable. That’s no small task.

With over 3,000 miles of coastline—and more than 4,000 islets and keys– Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and is unmatched in biodiversity.  Mangrove swamps, sea grass beds, and coral reefs provide breeding, nursery and feeding grounds for many commercial fish species and also for endangered migratory species like marine sea turtles, sharks and manatees.  Cuba’s coastal areas are also home to some of its most important economic sectors—tourism, fisheries, and energy development. Read More »

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EDF Finds Common Ground in Cuba

Dan Whittle with captain of The Felipe Poey research vessel.

Dan Whittle with captain of The Felipe Poey research vessel.

Sharks, sea turtles, birds, and fish know that the U.S., Mexico, and Cuba are all part of a huge, interconnected ocean ecosystem.  They routinely traverse the artificial boundaries that humans have created in order to go about their business.  Now, fishermen, scientists, conservationists and fishery managers have begun doing the same.  For the first time, they crossed those same boundaries in order to learn from each other on boats in Cuba's beautiful Gulf of Batabano and in meeting rooms on the remote Isle of Youth.

In April, EDF's Cuba Program teamed up with the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research,  Mexico's Communidad y Biodiversidad, and the Havana office of the World Wildlife Fund to pull off this unprecedented exchange.

Cuban tuna boat setting off to fish for live bait

Cuban tuna boat setting off to fish for live bait.

We spent the first four days in a “floating workshop” aboard a research vessel and commercial fishing boats–where we fished, dived, talked, and got to know each other.  The bonding experience on the boats made the traditional workshops on land (in a conference room full of PowerPoint presentations) much more productive.

The Cubans welcomed us with open arms and appreciated the chance to exchange ideas. Cuban lobster fishermen told us how to design fishing gear that is more effective and habitat-friendly.  We learned how Cuban “bonito” boats pursue black fin tuna without the use of sonar or other fish-finding technology.  Instead, Cuban fishermen scout the horizon for frigate birds and sea gulls that are following tuna and sharks; the fishermen then circle the schools of feeding fish, chum the water with live sardines, and drop in their lines.  Catching 20 lb tuna with the Cubans —using 10-foot bamboo rods—was thrilling and made us feel a bit like Hemingway. 

Our tri-national team on the floating workshop.

Our tri-national team on the floating workshop.

We also got a first-hand look at Cuba’s impressive efforts to expand its network of marine protected areas along the ecologically rich southern coast.  These marine and coastal parks are vital in protecting some of the region’s healthiest and most productive coral reefs, mangrove forests, and sea grass beds.  One Cuban scientist explained how a marine protected area in the Gardens of the Queen National Park (off the south central coast) has resulted in increased populations of fish outside its boundaries.

The Cuban fishermen we met with are eager to find new ways to manage and sustain marine fish stocks and secure a bright future for fishermen and fishing communities.  They were impressed with fishermen-led efforts in the U.S. and Mexico to rebuild fish populations and protect coral reefs.  They were keenly interested in the successful use of fishermen cooperatives and other fishery management approaches in Mexico, the U.S. and elsewhere.   Many follow-up actions are planned to build on the momentum built during this exchange.

Cuba, Mexico and the United States  are ecologically connected.  We share not only the Gulf of Mexico, but also the waters and marine life of the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans.  Buoyed by the success of this exchange, we plan to hold future exchanges that will help the countries work together to protect common resources and to confront shared problems.

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Improving Coral Reef Wildlife Trade Can Protect Reef Ecosystems

Coral Reef

Coral Reef

Coral reefs and their wildlife already face threats like ocean acidification and overfishing. The international trade in coral reef wildlife for “ornamental” uses like household aquariums, home décor, and jewelry also harms these ecosystems and reduces their ability to recover from other threats.

While EDF works with fishermen and fishery managers to use catch shares to end overfishing, we’re also working with other conservation and humane advocates to find solutions to the coral reef wildlife trade problem.

The problem’s scale is huge and growing. Globally, more than 30 million fish, 1.5 million live stony corals, 4 million pounds of dead coral and 5.5 million pounds of shells from thousands of species are removed from coral reef ecosystems in 45 countries each year.

The United States is the destination for up to 60% of these creatures. Though some U.S. importers demand responsible stewardship, most do not, so coral reef wildlife sold here are typically collected and imported using practices that cause significant environmental harm to wildlife and their surrounding environments.

Dead corals underwater

Dead corals

Collectors often squirt toxic chemicals like cyanide, bleach or gasoline into waters around coral reefs as sedatives, or they crush delicate corals to make collection of fish easier. These practices destroy critical habitats, remove the parasite cleaners and fragile reef-building species that rebuild and maintain the reef, and dramatically reduce biodiversity. To make matters worse, inhumane practices like these mean up to 40% of animals taken for importation die shortly after collection, forcing collectors to take even more animals, accelerating damage to coral reef ecosystems.

We can all be part of the solution.

If you’re stocking a home or business aquarium, ask the store for assurances that the creatures were collected and imported using sustainable and humane practices.

Solving this serious problem begins with understanding it. By improving the way we trade in coral reef wildlife, we can protect the health and sustainability of coral reef wildlife and the ecosystems they call home.

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Diving in the Jardines de la Reina – Gardens of the Queen – in Southeastern Cuba

After hundreds of dives around the Caribbean – and decades of “fish watching” – I thought there was nothing left in that part of the world to knock my socks off.  Boy, was I wrong!

Tortuga floating hotel in Los Jardines de la Reina, Cuba

Tortuga floating hotel in Los Jardines de la Reina, Cuba

I have heard for years about the wonders of the Jardines de la Reina – the Gardens of the Queen – in southeastern Cuba, and so was prepared for better-than-average diving during a recent week of exploring opportunities for scientific research in the recently declared national park.  Our base was the floating hotel, “Tortuga,” operated jointly by Cuba and the Italian company, Avalon.

I was totally unprepared for the sheer spectacle created by massive Goliath groupers, swarms of huge groupers and snappers, carpets of other reef fishes, and by the parade of sharks on every dive.  Diving with free-swimming Goliath groupers – behemoths sometimes nearly the size of Volkswagens – is a never to be forgotten experience.

Dr. Doug Rader with a Goliath grouper in Cuba

Dr. Doug Rader with a Goliath grouper in Cuba

Sharks are the calling card for the Gardens to divers from around the world: silky, Caribbean reef, blacktips, lemons and nurse sharks, plus the diving “holy grail” – whale sharks – the world’s largest sharks.  During our week, divers hailed from Lithuania, Latvia, the UK, Germany and the US.

Whale sharks, in fact, create their own microcosms as they feed on zooplankton and herrings that are also eating the zooplankton attracting schools of small tuna called bonitos that in turn attract silky sharks and seabirds in a massive feeding orgy.  Spotters find whale sharks by the birds picking up the leftovers.  The week before we were there groups of divers saw whale sharks every day.  Changing weather meant clearer water and better diving, but shifted the whale sharks away from our location – only one was sited our week, and not by us!

Caribbean reef shark

Caribbean reef shark

In addition to a variety of dives on different types of reef formations, we also spent many hours snorkeling. We examined every key habitat of the Gardens, from the nurseries formed by shallow-water mangroves and seagrass beds, to patch reefs and reef crests, and then to fore reefs and coral canyons and walls. 

Each new habitat added to a list of fishes that by week’s end numbered 124 species.  Actually, we did no night diving or snorkeling, and so missed a whole element of fish diversity which hides under coral heads during the day.  Also, I realized at the end of the trip that I had failed to notice many species because the large fishes distracted me.  Cuban scientists  in the Gardens suggested that many of the smaller fish we are used to seeing during the day in the more depleted reefs around the Caribbean are also there, but must spend more time hiding under the corals given the huge abundance of predators!  Makes sense to me.

Carpet of reef fish - school of fish

A carpet of reef fish

The one “downer” we encountered was the amazing prevalence of invasive Pacific red lionfishes, which we saw on nearly every dive and snorkel, regardless of depth, and regardless of habitat type.  While the impact of these voracious predators armed with poisonous spines remains unknown, it cannot be good to have so many on the reefs and in the shallows.  On one dive, I counted 22 lionfish and one of my colleagues counted 23.  Apparently, many foreigners like to see them, unaware of the challenge to the reef – the bellwether for a future full of changing animal populations as oceans warm and acidify – that they may represent.

All in all, our EDF team returned both awed at the beauty found in this remote location, but also energized by the potential for restoration of fish populations that a combination of proper management of marine parks and effective fisheries management represent.  Given the fact that most of these reef species have life histories that reach all the way across the continental shelf, the third piece of the puzzle, of course, must be effective coastal zone management – more about that later!

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