By David Elliott
Dive beneath the brilliant blue waters surrounding Thailand's Koh Tao island and you might come face to face with a giant sculpture of the sea goddess Mazu.
But a closer look reveals an even bigger surprise – Mazu is alive.
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Small Pieces, Big Impact<p>Angeline Chen, Executive Director of Global Coralition – who spoke recently at the World Economic Forum's <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/virtual-ocean-dialogues-2020/sessions/uplink-ocean-solutions-sprint" target="_blank">Virtual Ocean Dialogues</a> event – is effusive about the benefits of growing coral on land and the role it could play in rebuilding damaged ocean habitats.</p><p>Coral can be grown up to 50 times faster this way, she says, using a technique called <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925857418303094" target="_blank">microfragmentation</a>. This involves dividing a piece of coral into much smaller fragments, which<a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287204400_The_cultivation_of_massive_corals_using_micro-fragmentation_for_the_reskinning_of_degraded_coral_reefs" target="_blank"> stimulates the tissue</a> to grow. The pieces are grown a short distance apart and – because<a href="https://www.bbcearth.com/blog/?article=saving-coral" target="_blank"> corals are clonal animals</a> – they fuse together when their edges meet, forming a single mass.</p><p>Combined with other scientific methods, like<a href="https://www.globalcoralition.org/our-approach" target="_blank"> larval propagation and assisted evolution</a> to increase the resilience and reproductive rate of corals, Chen believes the impact of such projects, practiced all around the world, could be massive.</p><p>"With these farms, we could be growing a diverse array of resilient coral on a huge scale," she says.</p><p>Many organizations are practicing these methods, including <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925857418303094" target="_blank">Mote Marine Laboratory</a> in Florida, US, and the government of Hawaii, which is out-planting 1 meter by 1 meter (3.2 foot) corals grown in one year – the <a href="https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/blog/2020/05/28/nr20-072/" target="_blank">largest to be grown in a land-based</a> nursery.</p>
<div id="507c8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e2c57fd8c727e7692e37866d6fc81164"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1266170721882890240" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">In the world of nursery raised corals, a one-meter coral is considered big. Yesterday, a team of biologists and te… https://t.co/wNWMyaARVf</div> — DLNR (@DLNR)<a href="https://twitter.com/dlnr/statuses/1266170721882890240">1590713599.0</a></blockquote></div>
Empowering Communities<p>Driving the work of Global Coralition and organizations like it is a simple fact: coral is vital to the planet.</p><p>Coral reefs are among the <a href="https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/tutorial_corals/welcome.html" target="_blank">most diverse ecosystems</a> on Earth, and they support nearly<a href="https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/Coral" target="_blank"> 1 million species of fish</a>, invertebrates and algae. They're crucial to humans, too. They<a href="https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_protect.html#:~:text=Coral%20reefs%20provide%20a%20buffer,%2C%20property%20damage%2C%20and%20erosion." target="_blank"> protect our coasts from storms</a> and floods, and<a href="https://scripps.ucsd.edu/projects/coralreefsystems/about-coral-reefs/value-of-corals/" target="_blank"> provide work, medicine and food</a> to more than 1 billion people. In fact, coral <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/coral-reefs-we-continue-take-more-we-give#:~:text=Coral%20reef%20ecosystems%20provide%20society,the%20tourism%20and%20fisheries%20industries." target="_blank">reef ecosystems give society resources</a> and services worth $375 billion per year, according to the United Nations.</p><p>But coral faces myriad threats, including overfishing, pollution and climate change. Almost <a href="https://www.statista.com/chart/17126/reef-building-corals-under-threat/" target="_blank">half of reef-building coral species are under threat</a>, according to UN figures. And scientists predict we'll lose up to <a href="https://phys.org/news/2020-02-acidic-oceans-coral-reef-habitats.html" target="_blank">90% of all reefs</a> in the next 20 years if something isn't done soon.</p><p>For Chen and the Global Coralition, the answer lies in engaging and empowering local communities with the knowledge, tools and resources to reduce the local impacts of reef degradation while increasing key habitats and species.</p><p>The organization uses art, like the sculpture of Mazu, to bring people together around cultural themes that are <a href="https://www.globalcoralition.org/our-approach" target="_blank">meaningful to their communities</a>.</p><p>It then works with parties including local officials, marine ecologists, fisherman, students and dive centers to foster the unique skills to rehabilitate their local ecology. This work in turn improves quality of life, water quality, food security, income and employment opportunities and education in the region.</p>
The world's reef-building corals. Statista
Global Effort<p>Global Coralition is currently building a marine farm in a fishing village in the Dominican Republic. It consists of an expansive underwater sculpture garden inspired by Taino wisdom, a land-based coral farm, mangrove and oyster restoration and a community education center.</p><p>As part of this project, Chen says, it used the World Economic Forum's <a href="https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/uplink-contribution/a012o00001G7i5TAAR/global-coralition" target="_blank">UpLink</a> platform to connect the community with a recycling facility that pays locals to collect trash, which can be turned into material to be sold back into the economy.</p><p>The organization wants to create <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/virtual-ocean-dialogues-2020/sessions/uplink-ocean-solutions-sprint" target="_blank">200 of these marine hubs</a> across the globe in collaboration with local communities and governments, fishing villages, dive communities, restoration groups, hotels and local officials.</p><p>"Based on recovery rates, scientists predict we can rebuild marine life by 2050 if we can mitigate climate change, reduce local pressures and increase the abundance of our keystone habitats and species," Chen says.</p><p>"If these methods were applied all over the world, we could scale our collective rates of restoration."</p>
Along many tropical shorelines, swampy mangrove forests create habitat for fish and buffer the impact of heavy waves.
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Thailand rang in 2020 with an effort to tackle the plastic crisis filling the country's waste sites and choking its waterways. The country's ban on plastic bags at major retailers began as soon as the clock struck midnight in Bangkok. A complete ban of bags that includes smaller shops will go into effect in 2021, as Reuters reported.
- Supermarkets in Thailand and Vietnam Swap Plastic Packaging for ... ›
- Thailand to Ban Imports of Plastics and E-Waste - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Worsens Thailand's Plastic Waste Crisis ›
Never underestimate an elephant's ability to steal our hearts. That happened on Saturday in Thailand when five elephants died while trying to rescue a three-year-old calf that was swept away in a rushing river, as The New York Times reported.
Air pollution levels in Bangkok have gotten so bad that the city's governor, Police General Asawin Kwanmuang, ordered more than 400 schools to close through Friday.
Update, Nov. 7: Following the publication of this post, EcoWatch received feedback from PETA and readers stating that Elephants World is not a sanctuary because its treatment of elephants includes the use of bullhooks and visitors sitting on the elephants' backs. We contacted Elephants World and a representative said that their mahouts use bullhooks to prevent stronger elephants from attacking weaker elephants or visitors. "For emergencies like this our mahouts still carry the bull hooks. For the safety of the elephants as well as the visitors," the representative said. They also said that they do not allow visitors to sit on the animals. "This was something we did many years ago, and have stopped doing since we don't feel it's completely animal friendly," the representative said.
Meet Lam Duan, a blind elephant who lives at Elephants World, a sanctuary in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Her name translates to "tree with yellow flowers," she loves corn and jackfruit and she's got an ear for classical music.
Thailand's iconic Maya Bay, made popular by the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach, will be closed to tourists indefinitely, CNN Travel reported.
The beach had been closed temporarily since June 1 to restore the damage done by more than a million yearly visitors, but on Tuesday Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) announced the closure would continue "until natural resources return to normal."
Thailand has joined Vietnam and Malaysia in cracking down on the world's trash. Thailand will stop accepting more than 400 types of electronic waste (e-waste), including circuit boards, old TVs and radios, within six months, an environment ministry official told Reuters.
The decision was made Wednesday at a meeting chaired by Surasak Kanchanarat, the environment minister. Imports of plastic waste will also be banned in two years, although specific details of the program are not yet known, Reuters reported.
The turtle washed up on the beach on June 4, Weerapong Laovechprasit, a veterinarian at the Eastern Marine and Coastal Resource Research and Development Centre told AFP.
- 9 Shocking Facts About Plastic Pollution in Our Oceans ›
- Coronavirus Worsens Thailand's Plastic Waste Crisis ›
Scientists are trying to understand why 70 giant freshwater stingrays, some as big as a car, have been found dead in Thailand over the past few weeks. The die-off has been taking place in the Mae Klong River.
The giant freshwater stingray is the largest freshwater fish in the world.Zeb Hogan
Thai officials have found the river to be slightly more acidic than normal, but aren't sure if that could be the cause. Some speculate that the rays may have been poisoned by cyanide or succumbed to a recent spill from an ethanol plant.
"One thing is clear: a reduction of pollution from surrounding factories is needed to improve the health of the river and save the stingrays in the long term," Zeb Hogan, host of the Monster Fish series on Nat Geo Wild, said.
The WWF says that these rays are being increasingly isolated into separate groups due to construction of large hydropower dams, reducing genetic diversity. They are vulnerable to siltation as they spend much of their time along the river's sandy bottom. And they can be caught up in fishing activities such as longlines and gill nets, and may be killed as bycatch.
Freshwater rays are prized as pets by home aquarium hobbyists. A search for "freshwater stingrays for sale" on Google will retrieve more than 200,000 results.
Listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), giant freshwater stingrays inhabit rivers in Southeast Asia and northern Australia.
Hogan said that one ray recently found alive weighed between 700 and 800 pounds. It measured 14 feet in length and 7.9 feet across. They can grow to more than 1,000 pounds.
Much mystery surrounds the giant freshwater stingray. Cousins of the more numerous and widespread ocean stingrays, they were only identified by scientists in 1990. While the freshwater rays have been seen in brackish waters, it's not known if they ever venture into the ocean. No one knows how many exist in the wild, but they appear to be in decline.
In September, a new conservation effort was launched to help ocean rays and sharks. Actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio, at the Our Ocean Conference, announced the Global Partnership for Sharks & Rays, a collaborative effort to halt the alarming decline and overexploitation of shark and ray populations due to market demand for shark fin, liver oil, cartilage, leather, meat and ray gill plates.
Today in DC, @EcoWatch's Our Ocean Conference Kicked Off- About Ocean's Biggest Threats https://t.co/KbKytnWM3h https://t.co/ZcHKNmf5Qc— Oceanwire (@Oceanwire)1473980779.0
"Sharks and rays are among the most threatened vertebrates on the planet," Cristina Mormorunni, Global Partnership for Sharks & Rays acting director, said. "For many of these incredible animals, the future is uncertain. Unfortunately, the scale of current conservation efforts and investments don't match the level of urgency sharks and rays face."