The WildLife: Aquarium Trade in Hawaii, Rene Umberger

Rene Umberger, dive master and activist, discusses the marine aquarium trade in Hawaii and its impact. She tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme that every year, over 30 million fish are plucked from their coral reef homes for use in the aquarium hobby, with over 1,500 species targeted. Nearly all, 98 percent, of these saltwater aquarium animals are wild caught because captive breeding is difficult, if not impossible. She also notes that the Hawaiian islands are a key source of reef fish for the aquarium trade because of its many endemic species. However, over the last 20 yrs, the state has seen declines of 14 to 97% of aquarium fish species outside of protected areas. Millions of Hawaii's reef animals are collected annually, although nobody knows exactly how many because collection reports are not always filed and none are verified against the actual catch.  In fact, experts estimate the true catch may be 2 to 5 times higher than 500,000 to 1 million fish reported.

Rene Umberger has logged over 10,000 dives as a scuba instructor and dive guide on Maui since 1983.  Her concern for Hawaii's coral reefs led her to develop projects to address impacts to these fragile ecosystems.  These include partnering with marine tourism, conservationists and educators to create interpretive materials and environmental standards for marine tour operations (which have since been adopted statewide). She’s also developed and organized, in partnerships with local fishing supply stores and the NOAA Hawaii Marine Debris Action Plan, underwater clean ups that have removed and partially recycled over 4000 lbs. of Ulua fishing gear from entangled corals along heavily fished shoreline sites. In recent years her work has focused on educating Hawaii's communities and leaders on the impacts of the aquarium trade and advocating for strong protections for Hawaii's coral reef wildlife. This episode of “The WildLife” originally aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on October 4, 2010 and was re-podcast on March 7, 2011. (There was no broadcast due to snowstorm.)


The WildLife: Seahorses, Helen Scales

Helen Scales, author of Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses from Myth to Reality, reveals the unusual anatomy and strange sex lives of seahorses. She tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme that seahorses live mysterious lives, tucked away out of sight on the seafloor, and provides insights into their strange characteristics, including: kangaroo-like pouches for the males to bear the young, horse-like snouts used like straws to suck in tiny zooplankton, prehensile tails to grasp sea grasses, swiveling chameleon eyes and color-changing skin. Seahorses face many threats, including habitat loss and degradation and commercial trade. They’re used in traditional Asian medicine, and also sold as curios and as aquarium pets. Global consumption of seahorses is massive, with about 25 million seahorses sold each year. There’s so much we still don’t know about seahorses. For instance, we’re not even sure how many different species there are.

Dr. Helen Scales is a marine biologist, writer, and broadcaster who specializes in fisheries, habitat protection, and the international trade in endangered species. She has lived and worked in various countries and now lives in Cambridge, England where she works as a consultant for a number of conservation groups including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Natural England, and TRAFFIC International. For her PhD from the University of Cambridge she studied the loves and lives of one of the biggest coral reef fish, the Napoleon wrasse, and its imperiled status due to demand from Asian live seafood restaurants.She appears as a radio host on the BBC’s The Naked Scientists show and on BBC Radio 4’s Home Planet. She also produces and presents a new podcast series, Naked Oceans, a fun and informative exploration of the undersea realm. In her first book, Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses from Myth to Reality, she explores humankind’s thousand-year fascination with seahorses. This episode of “The WildLife” aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on January 17, 2010.


The WildLife: Detection Dogs for Wildlife Conservation, Megan Parker

Megan Parker, Executive Director and co-founder of Working Dogs for Conservation, talks about using detection dogs for wildlife conservation. She tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme how she trains dogs to detect wildlife samples, including plants, animals, seeds and scat. The dogs are often able to uncover what wildlife biologists can’t easily see or find, and they do so more efficiently and in a non-intrusive way—that is, without the baiting, luring, trapping, handling or radio-collaring the animals. The dogs at Working Dogs for Conservation have sniffed out dwindling populations of cheetahs in Kenya, helped with population surveys of endangered snow leopards in eastern Russia and uncovered invasive cannibal snails in Hawaii.

Megan Parker grew up in Montana, where she began training dogs when she was just 10 years old. She received her B.A. from Middlebury College in Vermont and her M.S. from Boise State University in raptor ecology, studying falcons in Guatemala. She has worked as a biologist in many states in the U.S., Canada, Central America, Asia and Africa. Her Ph.D. at the University of Montana focused on researching scent marking behavior and chemistry for conservation of African wild dogs in northern Botswana. Beginning in 1996, Megan started exploring the wider potential for dogs in non-intrusive wildlife research. Her idea of training dogs to find scat of specific species in the wild coincided with the increasing capacity of biologists in the mid-1990s to extract viable DNA samples from tissue particles contained in animal scat. She is particularly interested in the international application of working dogs in conservation to help developing countries and under funded projects acquire excellent samples and reduce costs. This episode of “The WildLife” aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on January 3, 2010.


The WildLife: Hawaii’s Reef Fish & Aquarium Trade, Robert Wintner

Robert Wintner gives an insider’s view of the fishes he knows on Hawaii’s coral reefs. He reveals to “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme why Hawaii’s coral reefs are so special, how the marine aquarium trade threatens their future, and how Maui County’s recent legislation could lessen the negative impact. Did you know the Hawaiian cleaner wrasse, a prime target for the aquarium trade, sets up “cleaning stations” on the reef, akin to service stations on American highways? Reef fish then wait their turns for this unusual fish to remove its parasites and other debris. Unfortunately, once the Hawaiian cleaner wrasse is removed from its natural habitat, it rarely survives and other fish suffer.

Robert Wintner is owner of Snorkel Bob shops in the state of Hawaii, Executive Director of the Snorkel Bob Foundation and an advocate to protect Hawaii reefs. He is also the author of several books, including the most recent, Some Fishes I Have Known, a photo essay that provides an intimate look at a vast array of creatures of the coral reef. The Snorkel Bob Foundation focuses on near shore reefs, and Wintner has been the lead advocate for eliminating and/or regulating the aquarium trade in Hawaii. From 2007 to 2010, he led legislative campaigns at the Hawaii State Capitol and in Maui County, which brought the plunder from aquarium trade into the light of day. However, with what he sees as a grim reality of empty reefs facing the people of Hawaii, Wintner will continue his legislative efforts. This episode of “The WildLife” aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on October 11, 2010.


The WildLife: Marine Aquarium Trade, Brian Tissot

Brian Tissot, marine ecologist, discusses the marine aquarium trade. He tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme how the United States, as the world's largest importer of marine ornamental species for the aquaria, curio, home decor and jewelry industries, has an opportunity to leverage its market power to promote more sustainable trade and reduce the effects of this trade on coral reefs worldwide. The trade in coral and coral reef species for ornamental purposes is substantial and growing, with approximately 30 million fish and 1.5 million live stony corals removed from the ecosystem each year. The aquarium industry alone targets some 1,500 species of reef fish, and many die in transit, prompting collectors to gather even more animals to compensate for potential losses. With the United States accounting for over half of the ornamental trade in live coral, reef fish and invertebrates, Tissot and 17 other scientists are calling on this country to leverage its market demand—through additional regulation and enforcement, public awareness campaigns, certification of sustainable products, and assistance to spread best practices in source countries—to make the trade more sustainable.

Dr. Brian Tissot is a Professor in the School of Earth and Environmental Science at Washington State University Vancouver. His research is focused on the interface between biology, management, and policy and examines ecological interactions between habitat and commercially important marine fishes and invertebrates and the role of the community in managing marine resources. Through collaboration with state, federal and international agencies he is involved in a range of activities including basic research, research with implications towards resource management, and environmental policy development in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and California. In Hawaii, he helped improve the management of an aquarium fishery along the Kona coast by being a part of a collaborative research program with state biologists and policy makers, SeaGrant extension, and the local community. On the west coast he is examining the role of continental shelf invertebrates, especially deep water corals, and how they function as critical habitat for commercially important fishes. Information from his work has been used to improve management strategies for coral reefs in the Pacific, west coast bottom trawling, and in the development of legislation in Congress. In addition to over 60 publications in scientific journals, Dr. Tissot's work has been featured in Scientific American, National Geographic News, Smithsonian magazine and in the Washington Post. This episode of “The WildLife” aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on July 26, 2010.

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