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Webinar: The Future of the Raja Ampat Coral Reef Ecosystem

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Wednesday, 08 May 2019, 2:00

Wednesday May 8, 2019. 2:00 PM. Webinar: The Future of the Raja Ampat Coral Reef Ecosystem. Phillip Dustan, College of Charleston. Sponsored by NOAA. More information.

The reefs of Raja Ampat in the heart of the Coral Triangle are the epicenter of global biodiversity. Their equatorial location provides a refuge from tropical cyclones while being supplied by tropical Pacific Ocean water as part of the Indonesian Throughflow that joins the Pacific and Indian Oceans. However, ecotourism, principally sport diving, has become a booming economic engine that is flooding the area with people. In the past 50 years science has revealed that the very adaptations that enable coral reefs to flourish make them vulnerable to human activity, principally through overfishing, nutrification, and physical damage. The exponential growth of the tourism is already generating destructive ecological effects which are nested within the impacts of ocean warming, acidification, and commercial and artisanal overfishing. Raja Ampat’s reefs are of the highest priority for conservation as witnessed by the strong presence of major non-profits including (WWF, TNC, CI) but without a concerted effort to reduce local stressors, coral diseases, algal overgrowth, crown-of-thorns infestations, and physical destruction will quickly decimate live coral cover initiating a cascade to ecological ruin. We have the knowledge, but can we muster the political will and courage to recognize, organize, and implement an initiative to sustain the richest reefs on Earth?

Dr. Phillip Dustan, Professor of Biology, College of Charleston, is a marine ecologist specializing in the ecology, vitality, and conservation of coral reefs. Much of his work has centered on detecting change in reef communities to assess coral reef vitality and human influences. Phil began his reef studies in Discovery Bay, Jamaica in the early 1970’s which expanded to include the Florida Keys, Bahamas, the wider Caribbean, Pacific, Indian Oceans, and Java Sea. He worked closely with Captain Jacques Yves Cousteau and the Cousteau Society between 1974-2000, testified to the US Senate Subcommittee on Oceans in support of the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000. More recently was part of the scientific team for the Emmy and Peabody Award winning documentary Chasing Coral by ExposureLabs. Dr. Dustan was a founding Principal Investigator on the USEPA Florida Keys Coral Reef/Hardbottom Monitoring Project, pioneered remote sensing techniques for coral reef change and collaborated on developing coral molecular stress markers. Recently, Phil has begun retrospective studies of reefs in Jamaica, Belize, and Florida; places he worked as a young scientist that have all changed almost beyond recognition, having lost between 50% and 95% of their living coral cover ( This has sparked collaboration with to involve more people in reef conservation through the concept of “Diving with a Purpose”. People get involved with reef conservation through clean-up dives and other projects that connect them personally to the reef, triggering them to become ardent conservationists. Just like politics, all conservation really begins with local people and their local actions.  

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