Sunday, March 7, 2010

The COT Issue - who are we to play god?

Fifteen perhaps twenty years ago the reef at Pulau Lima in Redang have much resemblance to the one I saw in Derawan today. Most shallow reefs at Pulau Paku is almost identical to Hin Daeng / Hin Muang in Thailand. I am puzzled with the transformation of our reef from such diverse eco-system into a reef thats dominated by mostly branching corals (mainly from genus Acropora). This process occurs within a period of twelve years.

Areas and parameters of comparison is established beginning from 1996 until 2009.

Areas I observed includes:

Tanjung Tengah (Redang, devastated by human activities)COT collection is frequent here

Pulau Paku (Redang, major areas of reef is overwhelmed by fast growing corals)COT collection is frequent here

Pulau Lima (Redang, major devastation in the northern side and in the south the reef is overwhelmed by branching acropora) COT collection is frequent here

Tanjung Tokong (Redang, slight devastation but maintained it diversity due to distance and less exposure to human activities)COT collection is occasional here

Tokong Laut (Perhentian, slow process of degradation is observed)COT collection is occasional here

Shark Point (Perhentian, reef is overwhelmed by fast growing corals, only at the deeper end where some diversity is observed)COT collection is occasional here

Tanjung Basi (Perhentian, shallower side totally overwhelmed by fast growing corals)COT collection is frequent here

Tanjung Butung (Perhentian, slight change in diversity in the shallower side)COT collection is occasional here

Karang Sela (Bidong, diversity never change) COT collection is NEVER done here

The Pinnacle (Pulau Yu Kecil, no change in diversity)COT collection is NEVER done here

Parameters I observed is the general appearance of the reef and its diversity. Other than that I also noted the human "conservation" activities in that period (12 years).
In the following I listed the conservation activities that I arranged according to their frequency.

Crown-of-thorns removal - annually, at random or in conjunction with other activities
Reef Check - Annually
Turtle related conservation - continually
Beach and Reef cleanups and Project Aware - annually, intermittently organized by dive centers
Awareness Drives and Outreach programs - seldom, in conjunction with other activities.

Impact on the reef directly related to the removal of COT is what I am addressing in this blog. Other activities is not described here as it could just divert your attention away from the topic.

After years of playing god and removing most of the COT on our reef we have:

1. Altered the diversity of the coral reefs and has allowed the fast growing corals like the branching acropora and pocillopora to overwhelm our reefs.

2. The loss of slower growing corals, soft coral and sea fan is quickly recolonized by branching acropora or just simply covered in zoanthids and algae.

3. Conditions 1 and 2 occurs only in areas where we frequently played god and removed the COT.

4. Exploration to Pulau Yu and Bidong area where COT are never been removed shows that the reef there never changed since 1996 until now!

The COT practices
We have never questioned if this COT removal practices is right or wrong. But we knew that sometime in 60s a young scientist from down under predicts that if the COT is let to exist the coral reef of the world will be gone on ten years. This is due to the extinction of the Triton shell which is known as the main predator of the COT. Since then it has been fifty years and the reef is still here! did anyone ever questioned or challenged the accuracy of this theory?

Ask this questions

Is Triton shell really is the only predator of the COT? or there are some other organisms, things or factors that help control the population of COT? Anyone care to find out? Why is that the COT did not just overwhelm all the reefs beyond human reach and destroy them? If COT is exterminated because they feed on corals, what about the drupella shells and the humphead parrotfish.. they feed on corals too. Why don't we exterminate them too?

Isn't it wrong to kill one living thing in favor of the other?

We did not belong in the ocean. We strapped a metal cylinder on our back and laid claims to the ocean. Can we decide what should live and what should die?

Who are we? Are we gods?

Enlighten me on this one folks!

What About Textbook Conservation?

What is "textbook" conservation?
The interpretation on the meaning of textbook conservation goes differently from one person to another. I would interpret it as a "checklist" created by people and it is used as a do and don't list. The reason I called it textbook conservation is that it outlined all the possible destructive practices that we do and also the steps on how to prevent them. At times we are so precise in outlining things that it become so delicate that we could not even cope with the list we created ourself.

What is the point?
The point is we are good at identifying and analyzing. So much so that we found if we move a finger it would kill something in the environment. We have imposed too much restrictions to ourselves on the papers. We knew it but we choose to ignore it. If we follow the book it would render our life so impractical and ridiculous. Most of us choose to ignore it. See what I mean?? the book is pointless.. No one follows it.

How it shaped our perceptions?
the textbook conservation is viewed as too many don'ts. It is the guidelines that are leading us back to the stone age! perception? I don't care if there is a guideline or not. I lead my life the way I wanted and I let my consciences decide on how conservative I want to be. The textbook didn't really shaped anybody's perception. It is just a list of do's and don'ts.

Books are excellent reference material. Textbook,journals, newsletter on conservation in any form are good references. Use it where applicable but don't indulge everything thats written. If you make textbook conservation a way of life.. you will probably be ridiculous. Why? because you are part of a minute community in a world containing 6,692,030,277 people. Remember that besides your community the rest can be potentially destructive to the environment.

So does it work in the real world? I believe that conservation concepts should take into considerations on the global scale. It is a very complex issue that requires extensive research because there are no fixed systems that will work for all areas and conditions. As a conservation activist I harness the internet technology much more than other media as it is one of the ways that is far reaching enough to bring any measurable impact.