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THE STORY

#1STEPISODE

THE OCEANS ARE
DYINGMARINE SCIENTISTS
FIGHT BACK

NATHAN COOKREEF RESTORER

CHARLIE VERON GODFATHER OF CORAL

ABAM SIANIPARMANTA WHISPERER

EXPLORE

THREE MARINE ECO-HEROES

01

GUARDIAN OF THE
BARRIER REEF

NATHAN COOKMARINE SCIENTIST, AUSTRALIA

“Coral reefs are amazing eco-systems.
They cover less than
1% of the ocean floor,
yet upwards of 25% of all marine
life spends some time there.”

A PADI Master Instructor with over 3500 dives, Australia-based Nathan Cook is an applied scientist and specialist in coral reef restoration and capacity building with Reef Ecologic. He has been a passionate advocate for sustainability and the stewardship of coral reef ecosystems since he started working in Southeast Asia nearly 20 years ago. Nathan has designed and implemented a range of experiential learning programs, including curricula that integrate marine-management theory with active reef restoration techniques. As manager of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s “Eye on the Reef” monitoring program, Nathan was a lead coordinator of the task force that monitored the 2016-17 coral-bleaching incident.

THE GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARKS
ZONING MAP

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*Source : Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, GBRMPA Official Site

TELL US ABOUT
THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
MARINE PARK

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park began in 1975. The park has some fantastic management actions in place for protection. One of these is zoning. Originally, no-take areas—areas protected from extractive activities like fishing—covered just 4% of the 350,000-square-kilometer marine park. From 2003 to 2004, the Marine Park Authority went through an enormous amount of consultation with stakeholders and a broad variety of community members—fishermen, tourism operators—to undertake rezoning of the entire marine park. It was really quite challenging, but it resulted in 33% of the entire park becoming no-take “Green Zones,” which is a fantastic outcome for everybody. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is now a model for marine protected areas all over the world.

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HOW DO YOU RESTORE
DAMAGED REEFS?

Some areas of the Great Barrier Reef have been heavily degraded by bleaching. One of the reef restoration techniques we specialize in is called coral gardening. It’s nothing new; it’s been going on around the world for over 20 years. We rake fragments from donor corals, or we might find them loose around the reef, and we transplant them to areas that have been degraded and attach them to the reef using cement. Once they’ve got that stable base, they can grow in that new location and help regenerate that degraded reef. The coral colonies we plant cover small areas in the overall Great Barrier Reef, but if we all contribute our little bit, it’s that whole economies of scale that’s going to make a difference to our global community and impact these ecosystems.

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HOW DO YOU INVOLVE
ORDINARY PEOPLE?

The projects that I’m involved with really try to engage with the local community, the non-scientific community, to get involved. When we go out and do reef restoration projects and coral gardening activities—meaning we take corals from healthy reefs and use these to replenish or restore degraded reefs—we get people from the community who have an interest in the marine park or the marine environment. They want to be involved in the solutions, but they don’t necessarily have that knowledge, training or background. We facilitate their involvement and engagement in these activities. It really gives them a sense of achievement, accomplishment and feeling like they’ve been a part of that solution.

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HOW DO YOU STAY
POSITIVE?

There’s areas of the Great Barrier Reef that have been heavily degraded. It does feel a little hopeless at times. I often wonder what the future holds for the reef. As members of a global community, we live in a symbiotic relationship with nature. If we don’t realize that, then all hope is lost. You can choose despair or hope. I choose to be positive. I need to do whatever I can to make a difference, to try and influence those around me to contribute to supporting the health of those ecosystems. I feel like as long as I’m here on this planet, that’s what I’m here to do. It’s everyone’s responsibility to do the little things they can in their everyday lives to support the health of the Great Barrier Reef and reefs all over the world.

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WHAT DOES THE OCEAN
MEAN TO YOU?

The ocean is an amazing place. When I’m in the ocean I feel at home, I feel supported, I feel loved. The ocean is the creator of life, and without water, there would be no life on this blue planet. When I’m in the ocean I appreciate the symbiosis that we as humans have with the ocean, and it’s something that I feel a real connection with. Being in the ocean, being in the water, I feel at one not only with the ocean, but with all the animals and creatures that live there from the tiny coral polyps to the largest fish in the sea, the whale shark. It’s this inspiration that I get from nature that drives me to do what I do.

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WHY DO
REEFS MATTER?

Coral reefs are amazing ecosystems. They cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, yet upwards of 25% of all marine life spends some time there. Humans use them as a primary food source. They provide enormous amounts of coastal protection. In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef supports a $7-billion-dollar tourism industry and 69,000 jobs. It’s extremely important from a socio-economic perspective. To constantly to degrade this eco-system that’s our life-support for the planet is like slow suicide. People call the rainforests “the lungs of the world,” but the phytoplankton that blooms in our temperate seas provides up to two-thirds of the oxygen that we breathe. Reefs are a vital survival tool. Giving people hands-on opportunities to help protect these eco-systems is empowering for them and important for all of us.

02

THEY CALL HIM
‘GODFATHER’

CHARLIE VERONMARINE SCIENTIST, AUSTRALIA

“We humans are not a very nice species.
We are literally
the most destructive thing
this earth has ever seen.”

Dr. Charlie Veron is a prominent marine scientist who is entirely self-taught. Because he discovered 20% of all coral species in the world, he is nicknamed the “Godfather of Coral.” He has worked in all the major coral reef regions of the world, participated in 66 expeditions and spent 7,000 hours (the equivalent of 291 full days!) scuba diving. Formerly the Chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Charlie has authored over 100 scientific articles, including 14 books and monographs. He works tirelessly to educate the world about the impact that global warming is having on his beloved coral reefs.

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WHY IS CORAL
IMPORTANT?

Corals have got a hard skeleton, meaning that other things can live in the homes that they create. You won’t catch a little fish with a net on a reef because it will dive into the coral. It’s safe. So coral reefs have got the highest diversity of any place on this planet. Higher than in a rainforest. More things live on a coral reef than anywhere else. The coral is just a part of an amazing ecosystem which has got no parallel on earth. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of all marine species have some part of their lifecycle in the coral reef, so that makes coral reefs really critical to life of the ocean. Without coral reefs, we would have a massive ecological collapse. Very few people really appreciate the ecological importance of corals.

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WHAT MADE YOU
INTO AN ACTIVIST?

Thirty years ago, I thought the Great Barrier Reef was there forever. The Great Barrier Reef is enormous. It didn’t need conserving. Of course, I got that very wrong. It was around then that I heard the preposterous notion that the carbon dioxide humans were releasing was changing our climate. I didn’t believe this at first. Then I realized that coral reefs were very vulnerable to environmental change because they live on the interface of land, sea and atmosphere and any change in land, sea or atmosphere affects them. I was a very private person until climate change came and the Great Barrier Reef was under threat. Then I thought “I’m going to do everything I can to get the message out to the world that coral reefs are in dire straits.”

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WHAT IS CORALM
BLEACHING?

Bleaching occurs where there is a higher temperature than the corals are adapted to and sunlight. Bleaching isn’t anything to do with the corals themselves, it’s to do with the algae that live in corals’ tissues. If the water is warm enough and you’ve got full-on sunlight, the algae love it and they reproduce. The corals are good at controlling how many algae are in their tissues, but they can’t control the amount of food and oxygen the algae produce. When the algae start producing too much oxygen, they become toxic. The corals realize the algae is toxic and get rid of it, but then they “realize” they can’t live without the algae either. The corals get rid of their life support system and they die by suicide. We’ve lost roughly half of all the corals that existed on this planet 30 years ago.

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WHY DO THE OCEANS
MATTER?

The Amazon rainforest is not the lungs of the world. The ocean is. The oceans take up most of the carbon dioxide that’s produced and absorb it. Billions of tons a day of carbon dioxide is now being produced. The ocean is taking up this massive amount of carbon dioxide, and it is the oceans that really control this planet. Now the oceans, the atmosphere and the land are all coming under the thumb of homo sapiens. We are impacting all the three great spheres of planetary life and when these things all happen together, we are seeing something that is really a human-made mega-catastrophe. There’s no other way to describe it.

01

NATHAN COOKMARINE SCIENTIST, AUSTRALIA

02

CHARLIE VERONMARINE SCIENTIST, AUSTRALIA

play

NATHAN & CHARLIE
FULL MOVIE

03

PROTECTOR OF
MIGHTY MEGAFAUNA

ABAM SIANIPARSHARK SCIENTIST, INDONESIA

“Climate change can make you feel hopeless, but coming to Raja Ampat reminds me of
what I’m fighting for.”

Abam Sianipar studied ecology and biosystematics at Indonesia’s Bandung Institute of Technology and wrote his undergraduate thesis on reef sharks in Raja Ampat. He became Conservation International’s first employee fully dedicated to its Elasmobranch (i.e. sharks, rays and skates) Programme. The current Indonesian laws protecting manta rays and banning the export of certain sharks depend heavily on Abam’s work. Abam established an Indonesia-wide manta ray satellite tagging project in 2014 and performed the world’s first wild whale shark health assessment in collaboration with Georgia Aquarium. Abam works closely with local communities to find out what they need and to create sustainable plans for protecting marine nature and the magnificent local megafauna.

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WHY PROTECT
RAJA AMPAT?

Looking at climate change and how rapidly it moves, sometimes it makes you feel hopeless. But whenever I come to Raja Ampat, it makes me remember what we are fighting for. Raja Ampat has been dubbed the global epicentre of marine biodiversity. It has the highest number of coral reef species recorded anywhere. As an Indonesian, I’m passionate to keep it that way and protect it, especially with climate change. With climate change you get warmer seas and more acidic water. That could affect the abundance of plankton in Raja Ampat, which is probably the main factor for us having manta rays around here. We have to push hard to keep this place as beautiful as it is now. I’m hopeful that sometime in the future my son can come here and enjoy this nature.

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WHAT GOT YOU
INTERESTED IN THE SEA?

I was raised in Bandung, a city in West Java surrounded by mountains. I used to hike a lot; then I realised Indonesia was more than that, and tried snorkelling and scuba diving. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful spectacles I’d ever seen. I was interested in issues about the sea too. One issue that stood out was shark fishing. As a marine biologist in Indonesia, there’s opportunities to study sharks. I picked that because you can say “I’m a shark scientist” and it sounds cool. Now I’ve delved into it, I know there’s more to it than that. Sharks and manta rays can have an impact on people’s livelihoods, especially in a place like Raja Ampat. The people here still rely on nature. It’s my duty as an Indonesian to try to reverse climate change here.

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WHAT’S UNUSUAL
ABOUT THIS PART OF
INDONESIA?

I’m blessed to be able to spend a lot of time in the sea in Eastern Indonesia which is relatively untouched by modern development. I can see it in its pristine condition. One thing I always say to my friends is, “You have to dive at least once before you die.” When you go diving, you’re in another, almost unbelievable realm. You see these amazing spectacles, more beautiful than you could ever dream of. It’s so beautiful: the colours of the reef, the soft corals that move with the current, the humumgous amount of fish that swim with you. Then you get these majestic megafauna, like whalesharks and manta rays. The fact that I have that in my own backyard in Indonesia makes me proud and passionate in trying to protect them.

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WHAT MAKES MANTA
RAYS SPECIAL?

Mantas have the biggest brain-to-body mass ratio of any fish, so we call them the “smartest fish in the ocean.” When you’re diving with them, there’s a deep connection or interaction you don’t get with any other fish. Sometimes you get that with mammals like whales, dolphins or seals, but not fish. Other fish swim by, they don’t really care about you, but manta know you’re there and completely understand your presence. When they’re in a good mood, they try to check you out. When you get close to the manta, you can see its eye moving, trying to judge you and measure you. Are you dangerous? Are you friendly? Not only is there its graceful movement in the water, its presence, but also that connection, interaction. The manta is special.

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WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED
FROM TAGGING MANTAS?

We helped the Indonesian government put protection in place for manta rays. The government’s on board because manta rays are worth much more as a tourism asset than dead for fisheries. We didn’t really know anything about this animal: where it goes, where it gives birth, where the babies are growing up. That’s why we started a satellite tagging programme. Now we have a general understanding about Indonesian manta rays. They’ve been known as an ocean wanderer, but for the reef manta that’s not the case. They’re very localised in areas where they get food and protection and aren’t being hunted. If we want to protect the manta rays, we have to protect its habitat. In Raja Ampat, we’ve put together an area of marine park to protect these endangered species.

*SPECIAL PERMISSION GRANTED BY NATIONAL AUTHORITIES.

03

ABAM SIANIPARSHARK SCIENTIST, INDONESIA

play

ABAM
FULL MOVIE

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