Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tough Time to Be a Coral

This week released a publication titled "The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008". This report describes nearly half of these coral ecosystems to be in poor or fair condition. Those ecosystems adjacent to more populated areas appear to be under the greatest pressure. Threats from humans include water pollution, over-fishing, marine debris, and sedimentation. These corals are also at risk from climate-related impacts such as ocean acidification. I have briefly discussed ocean acidification in a previous post.

Today, the New York Times has a story discussing another threat to corals, farmed algae.
Corals are being covered and smothered to death by a bushy seaweed that is so tough even algae-grazing fish avoid it. It settles in the reef’s crevices that fish once called home, driving them away.
It appears that numerous countries have tried to farm two types of algae.
Kappaphycus alvarezii is most desirable because of its high carrageenan content; Eucheuma denticulatum is less valuable but easier to cultivate.
Carrageenan is used as a food binder and fat substitute. According to the article, carrageenan is found in products such as some types of ice cream (fat free?).

In this example, the farming venture has been a failure which then leads to degradation of the local corals. The article attributes this failure to numerous issues including the cultural characteristics of the people. The biggest problem is that this farming venture is a state run business.

This state-owned company was formed in 1991 to restart failed efforts by the fisheries ministry, advised by foreign consultants, to introduce seaweed farming in the 1980s. Today, after the algae were introduced to 10 islands in Kiribati, only one, Fanning in the Line Islands, is producing anything. So the government is giving up on the other nine and moving the seaweed company to Christmas Island, which is near Fanning Island and more than 2,000 miles from Tarawa.

“The government raised the price we pay to farmers to 60 cents a kilo so we lose 27 cents a kilo by the time we’ve shipped it to the processing plant,” which is 3,000 miles away in the Philippines, Mr. Rouatu said. “The government didn’t give us the difference last year, so we were only able to buy 100 tons, and the farmers are now stuck with 250 tons.”

Ah, another failed development project. There are many examples of this all over the developing world. Apparent Story: Beneficent Western Government or NGO decides small impoverished country could produce a certain product to improve economic conditions. Said government/organization does not do enough research into the characteristics of the people of impoverished country. Western government/organization helps local government develop business, but the local government does a poor job running it (surprise!) and the local people are not particularly well suited for running this type of business/farming. Local government tries to increase participation by setting minimum wages for farmers and as a result, there is local production, but costs of production are greater than market prices. Business venture deemed a failure and now byproduct of this venture is degrading the local environment.

Doesn't this seem like the storyline?

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