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Coral extinction, a threat to tourism

What is happening in the sea is something that is scary, and especially in the Dominican Republic! So says Jake Kheel the environmentalist.

We are facing a critical stage of the health of the coral reefs-the principle producer of white sand that covers our beaches! If we don’t have coral reefs, we will not be able to sell the country as a tropical isle for tourism! These are the warnings of the marine biologist Ruben Torres.

A recent study published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in which 90 investigators took part, indicates that more than half of the corals in the Caribbean have disappeared since the 1970s, and those that remain-a sixth part of the original coral reefs-can disappear within 20 years.

Overfishing, overpopulation, the contamination of coastal areas, invasive species and the outbreaks of diseases such as the so-called “White band” are the principle reason that the corals are in danger of extinction.

“Regarding the ‘White band’, we know that there are two types, one of which we know nothing and the other is a bacteria that is found in the sewage produced by humans, and this tells us that this is also contributing to the destruction,” explained Victor Galvan, the coordinator of Research of the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation.

Overfishing, the principle destroyer

In 1986 the island of Hispaniola already showed a marked decrease in reefs and fish in its waters, according to what was stressed by the French researcher Jacques Cousteau in his documental: “Haiti, the waters of misfortune.”

“We navigate through a sea full of beauty but empty of food. In the dominions of Agobe, the voodoo god of the ocean, life appears to have gone,” stressed Cousteau.

Back then Cousteau and his team questioned whether this earth where the resources were coming to an end, would be capable of supporting the unrestrained human population growth for much time.

A trip carried out by Diario Libre for 45 minutes in the waters off Montrouis, near the Moulin Sur Mer Hotel, confirmed that until now, this depressing situation continues.

Critical point: the sale of the parrot fish

The parrot fish contribute to the production of white sand and the elimination of algae that affect the corals. And it is because of this that in the Dominican territory, the experts complain especially about the indiscriminant fishing of this species for commercial sales.

The researchers talk about the fact that the situation of the corals could recover if we do not continue to finish off this aquatic species

“We have already eliminated the grouper, the red snapper, and now we are killing the parrot fish to feed the people and this is the next battle that we have to fight,” the biologist Torres stressed. Torres is also the head of the Reef Check Foundation in the Dominican Republic which monitors the conditions of the nation’s reefs as part of its work.

According with the studies, over the last 50 years the presence of live coral in the Caribbean has fallen by 50%, while th presence of algae has multiplied at an appalling rate. One of the jobs of the parrot fish consists principally of maintaining the algae that surround the corals under control.

“Here the coral reefs are mostly dominated by algae. The algae have increased enormously due to liquid contamination. Then, with overfishing, in general, the fishing industry and the fishermen want t o trap the biggest, and it so happens that the parrot fish has a good size, so that they have gone about exterminating them,” said Torres.

A short trip by Diario Libre reporters to some commercial establishments in Santo Domingo confirmed that the parrot fish is sold for human consumption. Of seven places visited, five corroborated that they sold the fish, two of them had them in stock. The price varied from between RD$80 a pound-the minimum-to RD$190 a pound-the maximum.

An alternative fish that the environmentalist offer to reduce the capture of the parrot fish is the lionfish, and invasive species that in addition threatens the coral reefs.

They said that the lionfish has few scales, and can be prepared for exquisite dishes.

“With this species we are also carrying out educational programs-using dried fish sculptures-for the young people of Punta Cana, so that they can sell them. The fish sculpture can sell for between US$35 and US$70 dollars and represents an income source for many,” said Galvan, of the Punta Cana Foundation.

Coral gardens: a fight against extinction

In 2005, the Punta Cana Foundation began to work with the reproduction of the deer-horn coral species-acropora cervicornis, the scientific name-before it was declared in danger of extinction. Now they are also working with the elk-horn species-Acropora Palmata-which is also located in the waters of the Caribbean.

The first-deer-horn-according to Victor Galvan, is ideal for the reproduction of fish because of the form of its branches, and the second helps break up the waves and the energy that comes from the movement of water.

Coral gardening, the techniques that are used by the Foundation, is based on the process of restauration and reforestation of the earth.

“In 2013 we did a survey of all of our nurseries, and just in the one here, we had more than 1,900 fragments. So far this year we have taken approximately 1.2 kilometers of tissue out of the nursery and returned it to the sea,” Galvan explained.

It is a program that has become popular in the Caribbean and in the Dominican Republic. There are nine nurseries in different tourist areas of the country which are carrying out this method.

With this work, the Foundation is also trying to promote a program of certification for diving in the Coral Gardens, so that Dominican tourism does not just consist of sun and sand.

“The reefs have an environmental function that directly affects tourism. Therefore, Punta Cana began from the start to think about the coral reefs, but also as an attraction for the tourist who comes to visit the country,” said Jake Kheel, the director of the Punta Cana Foundation.

The program receives support from international agencies.

Reproduction techniques

The corals can be reproduced either sexually or asexually, and the latter is the way that is used for their reproduction.

The technique consists in cutting fragments of the coral branches with pliers and then tying the fragment to a steel bar structure that is placed in the open sea where a group of biologists from the institution monitor its growth and viability and make sure it is free of contamination and predators.

“They grow very quickly. We are talking about a period of from nine to twelve months to have a coral of considerable size. It is one of the fastest growing corals in the world. In order to give you an idea, for each centimeter we get, they can grow between three and eleven centimeters,” Galvan pointed out.

“We never cut everything and take it, we always leave a fragment so that it keeps growing,” he added.

Source: DiarioLibre

Category: DR News |

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Last updated January 14, 2018 at 12:43 AM
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