With 1997 designated as the International Year of the Reef by marine scientists and conservationists, coral conservation issues have taken center stage. The message is simple: coral reefs are in trouble, with disease, overfishing, blasting, poison and coastal development all taking a mounting toll.
But there is also good news. Last December, the Belize Barrier Reef -- the largest coral reef in the western hemisphere -- earned a World Heritage Site designation, joining the ranks of Yellowstone National Park and the Great Pyramids. Since the early 1980s, the Wildlife Conservation Society has fought to protect this 125-mile-long ecosystem.
At its heart is the Glover's Reef Marine Reserve, a near pristine atoll where WCS operates its Middle Cay Research Station. Besides working with the Belizean Government on a coastal zone management plan, WCS researchers currently study whether certain areas of the reef can be maintained as fishery replenishment zones -- no-harvest areas where commercial species can reproduce and disperse. WCS also conducts long-term studies of the commercially valuable Nassau grouper, vulnerable to overfishing due to its habit of congregating by the thousands in massive spawning events once a year.
In Africa, the Society supports coral research off the coast of Kenya, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Madagascar and Tanzania. For the past eight years, WCS biologists have monitored boat traffic and overfishing at reefs in the Mombasa Marine National Park and other marine reserves in Kenya. Working with the Kenya Marine Fisheries Institute, WCS found that overharvesting reef predators like triggerfish causes sea urchin numbers to explode. Eventually, the reef slowly suffocates beneath an overgrown blanket of urchins and algae, collapsing the fishery. Controlling the fishing fleet and removing excess urchins within Mombasa and other areas restores the reef ecosystem.
Closer to home, the Society maintains a coral research facility at the Aquarium for Wildlife Conservation's Osborn Laboratories for Marine Sciences (OLMS) in New York City. OLMS Collaborates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to save seized live corals transported illegally into the country, and remains one of the few labs in the country capable of breeding hard corals.
Under controlled laboratory supervision, researchers focus on how changes in temperature, light and water chemistry affect the physiology, growth and reproduction of individual colonies of different coral species. This links with WCS's field programs, furthering the Society's capability for coordinating coral research from around the world. ### PHOTOS, VIDEO OF WCS INTERNATIONAL PROJECTS AVAILABLE MEDIA TOURS OF OSBORN LABORATORIES AVAILABLE VISIT OUR WEB SITE: WWW.WCS.ORG