MANILA » Philippine officials have filed criminal charges against several people linked to a huge shipment of endangered sea turtles and rare black corals.
The shipment’s seizure last month has raised alarm that the archipelago’s rich marine life is being devastated by the illegal trade.
Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez filed the case Friday at the Justice Department against the owner, consignee, shippers and haulers of the $808,000 cargo. They are facing charges of violating the ban on coral exploitation and exportation and related offenses.
Exequiel Navarro, who is listed in the shipment’s manifest as the consignee, has denied the charges saying he was not aware what was in the cargo.
When might an endangered coral species not really be endangered?
When it’s not even a separate species, apparently.
Zac Forsman of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology recently led an investigation of genetic and structural features of Hawaiian corals within the common genus Montipora. And what they found could have serious implications for scores of rare corals currently being reviewed for enhanced protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Of the 83 corals being considered for endangered-species designation, nine are found in Hawaiian waters.
During their investigation, Forsman and his colleagues found that variances in colony shape, color and growth can cause some coral to be misidentified — a problem since coral species definitions are based on the coral skeleton.
According to UH, the study revealed two previously unknown species complexes in Hawaii, “showing that corals previously thought to be very rare may interbreed with more common species.”
A UH news release quoted Forsman as saying, “The scale of variation that corresponds to the species-level is not well understood in a lot of stony corals; this is a big problem for taxonomy and conservation. We need to determine if these species complexes contain species that are in the early process of forming, or if they just represent variation within a species. Either way, it could change our understanding of coral biodiversity.”
Maui News staff writer Harry Eagar’s Nov. 15 column expressed unfounded opinions that trivialized a serious community issue. Sewage disposal is no laughing matter. It is a quality of life issue for all who live on Maui, our visitor industry and those voiceless ones who inhabit Maui’s waters.
Concerns about the connection between effluent disposal, water quality and reef decline are shared by scientists and environmental professionals tasked with safeguarding water and natural resources. The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources (hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/pubs/MauiReefDeclines.pdf) identified land-based pollutants as part of the problem causing coal decline. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered Maui County to characterize the pollutants in the effluent and to identify where the effluent goes after injection. The state Department of Health has declared coastal waters near the wells as impaired due to presence of nutrients and other pollutants (hawaii.gov/health/environmental/env-planning/wqm/2006_Integrated_Report/2006_Chapter_IV_Assessment_of_Waters.pdf).
There is substantial evidence that the effluents injected into the groundwater at county treatment plants is reaching the ocean. The presence of effluent indicators in ocean water was found by the University of Hawaii and the U.S. Geological Survey. There is no scientific evidence supporting Eagar’s assertion that coral not only eat sewage, but love it.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources proposes that a company that damaged a coral reef while trying build an artificial reef off Maui should be fined $824,373.
The state said it could have sought a $4.9 million fine, or the $1,000 maximum allowed by law for each of the 4,914 corals damaged.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources was to decide on the fine at a hearing this morning.
The fine, if approved, would be nearly double the $436,460 that the state paid American Marine Corp. for the Keawakapu artificial reef project.
According to a department document, American Marine dropped 125 Z-shaped concrete slabs onto Keawakapu Reef on Dec. 2. The damage covered 312 square miles of living reef well outside the area marked for the slabs.
According to the document, American Marine’s barge appeared to drift as much as 300 to 400 feet from its buoy and had to be repositioned at least twice. After 1,452 slabs were sunk, state divers found several landed on coral.
The department stopped the artificial reef improvements and opened an internal administrative investigation.
The state said it is not seeking the maximum penalty because previous cases involving habitats considered high-value ecosystems had fines less than the maximum. The Keawakapu reef is classified a medium-value ecosystem.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday is to take up the issue of coral reef damage at the Keawakapu artificial reef off Maui.
The Division of Aquatic Resources staff is to report on an assessment of the damage that occurred last Dec. 2.
The state initially reported that it appeared about 50 concrete slabs hit the reef.
But federal report says 125 slabs accidentally landed on live coral habitat during a state project to enhance the artificial reef.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the rest of the 1,400 modules weighing 2,800 pounds each landed on sand.
Friday’s meeting is to be held at Maui County’s Department of Planning
Who knew algae had such depth?
A research team from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, led by University of Hawaii doctoral student Daniel Wagner, has discovered a photosynthetic algae called symbiodinium at ocean depths of nearly 1,300 feet, roughly twice as deep as any previous finding.
The algae, which were found on samples of black coral species around Hawaii, are commonly associated with shallow-water, reef-building corals, which rely on the algae for nutrients. However, symbiodinium, which requires sunlight to photosynthesize, had not been detected below 656 feet before and typically lives in depths of about 130 feet.
Wagner said the algae was found in very low densities, suggesting that it was not a likely nutrient source for the black coral. He said it was possible that the algae found on the black coral was dormant, dying or possibly feeding off of the coral.
“But it’s only a guess at this point,” said Wagner, 28 “As is usually the case, you uncover one thing and it leads to 10 new questions.”
A University of Hawaii coral research project doesn’t sound like a major threat to the environment, but it has been stalled because researchers have been unable to get an exemption from the law requiring a costly environmental impact statement.
UH researchers can’t take tissue samples from live coral or remove test plates with new coral growth until the EIS issue is cleared up, said Michael Hamnett, executive director of the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii.
The delay is hurting research aimed at saving coral from the effects of things such as storm water runoff, Hamnett said. Several million dollars in research grants could be in jeopardy if the issue isn’t resolved, Hamnett said.
DOHA – THE UN wildlife trade body on Sunday was to debate controls on commerce in precious coral, harvested in the Mediterranean and the western Pacific and then crafted into jewellery mainly in Italy.
With finished necklaces retailing for up to US$25,000 (S$34,970), red and pink coral is among the world’s most expensive wildlife commodities.
A proposal to list the deep-water, reef-forming organism under Appendix II of the Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), meeting in Doha until Thursday, would require nations to track exports and show that coral is extracted sustainably. Co-sponsored by the United States and the European Union, the move is opposed by Japan, which last week lobbied successfully to shoot down a bid to ban trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna.
The new measure targets seven species in the Coralliidae family, one growing in the Mediterranean and the others in the western Pacific, including Hawaii.
Destroyed by rising carbon levels, acidity, pollution, algae, bleaching and El Niño, coral reefs require a dramatic change in our carbon policy to have any chance of survival
Animal, vegetable and mineral, a pristine tropical coral reef is one of the natural wonders of the world. Bathed in clear, warm water and thick with a psychedelic display of fish, sharks, crustaceans and other sea life, the colourful coral ramparts that rise from the sand are known as the rainforests of the oceans.
And with good reason. Reefs and rainforests have more in common than their beauty and bewildering biodiversity. Both have stood for millions of years, and yet both are poised to disappear.