Okinawa and the U.S. military, post 1945

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Lane Johnston

Okinawa has had a tumultuous history and a scattered identity throughout the twentieth century. As a Japanese territory before World War II, Okinawans did not ever fully adopted Japanese culture as their own. During WWII, Okinawa was a major location used in the U.S. military’s island-hopping towards mainland Japan. After the Battle of Okinawa concluded in June 1945, Okinawa was under control of the U.S. Navy. During the war, up to 160,000 Okinawan citizens, young and old, males and females, were sacrificed by the Japanese army or killed by U.S. military personnel in case they were spies for the Japanese side (Sarantakes 2000). This paved an immediately uncertain and distrustful relationship between Okinawans and the U.S. military in the years after WWII.

After the war, this relationship was further hindered by the fact that Okinawan farmland began to be appropriated by the U.S. military for the construction of naval and army bases (Bugni 1997). Sentiment between U.S. military based in Okinawa and the local Okinawans continued to be poor as a result of the increased military presence on the island. In the mind of the United States, Okinawa was located in a strategic position for a number of reasons. First, with the threat of communist expansion, increasing power of Soviet Russia and the nearby revolution in China during the early years of the Cold War, the U.S. wanted to maintain control and exert power over the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, as a show of resistance to the communist movement (Sarantakes 2000). Then, in 1950 with the start of the Korean War, Okinawa again became a foothold for the U.S. in Asia to help their South Korean allies, resulting in more land seizures for military base expansion on the island (Sarantakes 2000). For these reasons, as well as others, Okinawa’s role as a stepping-stone into Asia for the U.S. military continued, just as it had during the final years of the World War II.

During this time, the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR) had replaced the direct military control of Okinawa (Aldous 2003). After the signing of the Treaty of Peace in 1951 by Japan and the U.S., Okinawa became a territory of the United States (Onishi 2012). Despite this, Japan still held “residual sovereignty” over Okinawa, causing Okinawans to be considered neither U.S. citizens nor Japanese citizens (Onishi 2012). This undoubtedly put additional strain on the Okinawan identity during the years post WWII: an identity that had not fully incorporated Japanese culture into their own even before the war.

The interaction between Japanese and American cultures was tangled from 1945 to 1972. The control that the U.S. held was manifested in the U.S. dollar as the official currency, and Okinawans were required to hold travel permits to go to mainland Japan. Even the display of the Japanese flag was prohibited (Aldous 2003). Nonetheless, Japanese was the language taught in schools and used in daily life (Aldous 2003). U.S. military troops and their families continued to be stationed on the island during the 1950s and 60s, increasing the presence of U.S. military bases on Okinawa. The military bases were (and continue to be) used for testing and storage of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as aircraft and naval equipment fused by the military personnel stationed there. In 1959, Okinawan sentiment towards U.S. military worsened after a U.S. fighter plane crashed into an elementary school during a test flight (Close The Base 2011). Furthermore, many Okinawans were living in impoverished conditions as a result of either loosing their land, and therefore livelihoods, or due to a lack of food and the fact that basic standards of living were not being met (Feifer 2000). As a result, the years Okinawa was under the exclusive control of the U.S. military were unpleasant ones for the people of the island.

Figure 1: Protest at Kadena Air Base: In 1987, a protest outside of the Kadena Air Base comprised of 24,000 people as a human chain demanding for the closure of the base. Okinawan resentment increased as U.S. military bases we not reduced following Okinawa’s return to Japanese control.

Figure 1: Protest at Kadena Air Base: In 1987, a protest outside of the Kadena Air Base comprised of 24,000 people as a human chain demanding for the closure of the base. Okinawan resentment increased as U.S. military bases we not reduced following Okinawa’s return to Japanese control.

In 1969, the U.S. and Japan came to an agreement to return the island of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty and in 1972 Okinawa formally rejoined Japan (Aldous 2003). In the years leading up to 1972, Okinawans wanted to return to Japanese control because the Japanese economy was growing a good rate, especially in comparison to the Okinawan economy, which had stagnated as a result of U.S. military base expansion (Aldous 2003). In addition to the increased livelihood expected by the rejoining of Okinawa to Japan, it was thought that U.S. military bases would begin to diminish and even perhaps disappear on the island (Feifer 2000). Instead, Japan allowed the U.S. to continue to exercise their large military presence on Okinawa and livelihoods of Okinawans did not dramatically improve, nor did the relationship between Okinawans and U.S. military personnel improve (Feifer 2000).

During this time, crime, noise, occupation of appropriated lands and military presence continued to be major problems for residents of Okinawa. Fortunately, the livelihoods of Okinawans began to improve slightly as increased financial assistance from the Japanese government went to Okinawans to improve infrastructure on the island (Sarantakes 2000). Additionally, Okinawa’s tourist industry began to market the natural resources of the island, including the beautiful beaches, coral reefs and mangrove swamps (Sarantakes 2000). These natural resources continue to draw tourists from across the globe today.

The relationship between the U.S. military and Okinawans is still poor today, in large part due to problems that result from having aircraft bases located on the island. Not only is noise a major problem for Okinawans living near the air bases, but also airstrips are still built over some of the most arable land on the island (Feifer 2000). According to the Okinawan Prefectural Government, U.S. military forces take up 18.4% of the land area of Okinawa, which is an immense portion on an island that is a third the size of Rhode Island (Okinawa Prefecture 2013).

Figure 2: U.S. Base Locations on Okinawa: Location of military bases used by U.S. Forces on Okinawa, including water-training grounds.

Figure 2: U.S. Base Locations on Okinawa: Location of military bases used by U.S. Forces on Okinawa, including water-training grounds.

The huge U.S. military presence continues to cause friction between Okinawans and military personnel. Additionally, despite being under Japanese control, U.S. military bases are not being reduced despite promises to do just that. Furthermore since 1972, there have been a reported 116 military aircraft accidents, such as fires and crashes, according to Bugni, causing additional resentment toward the continued occupation of Okinawa by U.S. military bases and personnel (1997).

There are numerous environmental impacts the U.S. bases are having on Okinawa. Noise produced during firing exercises has lead to forest fires, soil erosion and earth tremors on the island (Bugni 1997). The loud sound produced by military aircrafts also has caused loss of hearing and fatigue to the Okinawans living near the base (Bugni 1997). Furthermore water pollution problems occur frequently on the base and neighboring areas as raw sewage and oil are leaked into the water systems (Bugni 1997). Unquestionably it can be seen that the U.S. military bases on Okinawa are having impacts that go beyond the physical use of the land for the bases, including social, economic and environmental issues.

According to the article published in 1997 by Bugni, Okinawa “adopted the Cosmopolitan City Formation Concept” which states that Okinawa will be an area that contributes to the social and cultural development of Japan by the year 2015 (1997). In order for this to occur, U.S. military base land on the island must be reduced in order to allow for the economic development of the lands by Okinawans, as well as a continued development of the unique culture found on the island. The Okinawan government proposed a Base Return Action Program, which has laid out a three-phase plan to remove U.S. military bases from Okinawa (Bugni 1997). Part of these agreements being formed by the Japanese and American government include the moving of U.S. military bases to other places in Japan, but there are difficulties in finding areas that are interested in having a military base relocated to it (Bugni 1997). For Okinawa this could mean a two billion dollar loss to the island’s economy, but projects have been proposed to increase tourism as a main supplement to Okinawa’s economy (Bugni 1997). And still today similar proposals are still being discussed. A New York Times article posted this past April by Martin Fackler states that military bases and runways on Okinawa are to be moved to mainland Japan as well the U.S. Marines to bases in Guam, Hawaii and Australia as early as 2022 (2013). Any effort to mitigate the U.S. military’s impact on the Okinawan economy, society and environment will require the reduction in these bases and their subsequent activities.

The U.S. plans to move some of the troops stationed on Okinawa to other areas in the Asia-Pacific Rim, including Guam and Australia (Liebert 2013). Simply moving the Air Base to another area on Okinawa will not fix the problems of noise pollution, accident risk and environmental damage caused by reclaiming new land for the military base (Nakaima 2012). The current stagnation in removing U.S. military bases on the island of Okinawa continues to put immense strain on the relationship between Okinawans and U.S. military stationed there. Furthermore, the lack of initiation that the Japanese government has shown in attempting to relocate some of the U.S. military bases to other areas of Japan has undoubtedly dismayed many of the local Okinawans. Hopefully the future of Okinawa will improve with a reduction in U.S. military presence on the island, but with the growing power of China and other Asian nations, a notable reduction of U.S. military on Okinawa will likely not occur for many more years.

About the Author: Lane Johnston is a Junior at the University of Southern California, majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in International Relations.

References:

Aldous, C (2003) Achieving Reversion: Protest and Authority in Okinawa, 1952-70. Modern Asian Studies 37:2, 485-508.

Bugni, T (1997) Continued Invasion: Assessing the United States Military Presence on Okinawa through 1996. Suffolk Transnat’l L Rev. 21: 85- 112.

Close the Base (2011) Okinawa Prefecture art exhibition memorializing victims of the June 30, 1959 U.S. military jet crash into Miyamori Elementary School. <http://closethebase.org/2011/06/30/okinawa-prefecture-art-exhibition-memorializing-victims-of-the-june-30-1959-u-s-military-jet-crash-into-miyamori-elementary-school/.> Viewed Mar 24th 2013.

Fackler, M (2013) U.S. and Japan Agree on Returning Okinawa Land. The New York Times. < http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/06/world/asia/us-and-japan-reach-deal-on-returning-okinawa-land.html?_r=0> Viewed May 21st 2013.

Feifer, G (2000) The Rape of Okinawa. World Policy Journal 17:3. 33-40.

Liebert, L (2013). Japan’s Move to Relocate Okinawa Base Welcomed by U.S. Blomberg.com. < http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-22/japan-s-move-to-relocate-okinawa-base-welcomed-by-u-s-.html> Viewed Mar 24th 2013.

Nakaima, H (2012) Landfill for U.S. Base Will Destroy Environment: Okinawa Gov. Jiji Press English News Service.

Onishi, Y (2012) Occupied Okinawa on the Edge: On Being Okinawan in Hawai‘i and U.S. Colonialism toward Okinawa. American Quarterly. 64.4: 741- 761.

Okinawa Prefecture (2013) U.S. Military Issues. Okinawa Prefecture. <http://www.pref.okinawa.jp/site/chijiko/kichitai/25185.html>. Viewed Mar 25th 2013.

Sarantakes, N (2000). Keystone: the American occupation of Okinawa and U.S. – Japanese relations. Texas A&M University Press.

Stearns, P Ed. (2008) Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World. Oxford Reference. Oxford University Press.

Tzeng M (2000) The Battle of Okinawa, 1945: Final Turning Point in the Pacific. The History Teacher 34: 95-118

Images: Top: From the Ryukyu Cultural Archives: Looking at Okinawa’s History through Images and Photographs. Originally from The Okinawa Times: http://rca.open.ed.jp/web_e/city-2001/his/index.html; Bottom: Source: Okinawa Prefecture. http://www.pref.okinawa.jp/site/chijiko/kichitai/25185.html

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.   This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

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Effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas in Mexico – the Actam Chuleb Example

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Alanna Waldman

As our world population continues to grow, it implies a higher demand for resources. Whether these resources are food, water, or land, the effect of this growth on our environment is often detrimental to biodiversity and the health of our natural ecosystems, especially our marine ecosystems. The ocean covers 71% of the earth’s surface and therefore our actions on land and in the water have a massive impact on marine ecosystems worldwide. Trade, fishing, tourism, and transportation all impact our oceans and if we do not protect marine resources, future generations will face limited fish stocks, polluted waters, and a loss of biodiversity.

The implementation of marine protected areas (MPAs) attempts to reduce the risk of destroying our marine ecosystems by reducing fishing pressure and other marine impacts. MPAs are marine areas that have usually been altered by humans and are in need of restoration and conservation. MPAs serve to protect delicate ecosystems so that they remain productive and healthy, maintain areas of biodiversity and genetic variation within the flora and fauna populations, ensure that endangered, threatened, or rare species are protected, promote sustainable use of the area, protect indigenous areas for cultural importance, and endorse research to preserve the area using the best scientific knowledge (DOF 2007).

In Mexico, many areas have management policies in place for the protection of the country’s environment, including coastal waters. With the high volume of inhabitants as well as tourists visiting the country, there is a need to protect the Mexican coastal areas from severe human impact. But are these MPAs actually effective in preserving biodiversity and resources? When trying to regulate an area such as the ocean, enforcing the laws must be a collaborative effort. However, this is especially difficult in Mexico where cooperation between communities, local governments, and state governments is frequently lacking.

With a coastline of 11,500 km (~7,100 miles), the variation in marine ecosystems in Mexico ranges from wetlands, mangrove forests, and barrier islands to dunes, coral reefs, sea grass meadows, and offshore islands (Inegi 2007, Vidal 2005). Within each of these ecosystems exists a unique biodiversity of flora and fauna that provide valuable environmental and economic benefits for Mexico and its inhabitants. The oil industry, tourism, agriculture, urban development, fisheries, and mining, however, can all negatively affect this precious marine life (Fraga 2008). To combat this damage, Mexico created a piece of legislation for environmental regulation called the General Law for Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection (LGEEPA). Balancing sustainability with economic gain and preserving the environment, along with conservation and protection of biodiversity are the main goals of this law.

LGEEPA also provides the framework to create MPAs in Mexico. Since 1962, Mexico has been protecting marine and coastal areas by signing many international agreements including CITES, UNCLOS, MARPOL, and Ramsar to name a few. But with thirty-one states comprising Mexico and each with their own individual environmental laws and legal mechanisms (Bezaury-Creel 2005), decisions and agreements on how to manage and handle the environment, specifically the marine and coastal areas, of Mexico can be inconsistent and lead to poor and ineffective management.

For a managed area to be successful all parts of the government need to cooperate with one another and the government needs to be centralized on environmental issues for the best protection and results. One reason for Mexico’s difficulty in creating effective MPAs is that they do not yet have an integrated coastal management (ICM) system implemented into their regulations. ICM would streamline all of the different coastal management plans throughout the country into one consistent plan for the entire country. Because of the various governmental agencies in Mexico, however, ICM is not a top priority for the country currently.

Despite these governance challenges, Mexico has decided to stick with MPAs as a way of protecting their marine ecosystems (Rivera Arriaga 2004). Because of limited information and data on the coastal zones and limited management cooperation, ICM is not an appealing option for Mexican governments. Instead, Mexico, as of March 2007, has implemented 61 MPA’s throughout the country (Fraga 2008).

Figure 1: The above table outlines the total protected areas in Mexico, including the marine protected areas along with the total area of the protected ecosystem, both marine and terrestrial (Fraga 2008).

Figure 1: The above table outlines the total protected areas in Mexico, including the marine protected areas along with the total area of the protected ecosystem, both marine and terrestrial (Fraga 2008).

Unfortunately, according to a study in May 2005, only 22 of 59 MPAs had proper management plans and rules (Fraga 2008). Less than 50% of the MPAs at the time were effective or allowing the protection of the marine areas. The ineffectiveness of the MPAs can be attributed to the difficulty in implementing them. Scientists must preform extensive research on the area including social and cultural effects on the community, they must collect basic information on the area and the ecosystem, present a reason for protection, investigate the history and culture of the area, take into consideration the socioeconomic status of the area, present an overview of the land/water use, and present a management plan with information on how the MPA will be operated and managed (DOF 2007).

The Secretariat for the Environmental and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and LGEEPA are in charge of approving new MPAs. SEMARNAT requires the approval by the state and local governments and agencies, the public and private social organizations, the indigenous people, and the educational institutions (SEMARNAT 2007). LGEEPA requires information on the precise location and boundaries of the area, the type of protection needed, a list of activities that are allowed and not allowed, a management plan, and a list of ways it will be operated, enforced, and financed (DOF 2007).

The issue of finance is one of the greatest downfalls for MPAs. Enforcement is key to the success of an MPA but without proper funds to hire personnel to patrol the area, nothing can be accomplished. A lack of management plans also makes MPAs ineffective because people will continue to use the area indiscriminately and cause degradation. Often economic interests overtake environmental interests, making MPAs a low priority for the Mexican government.

Additionally, environmentalists and locals do not always agree on one way for a marine area to be managed because environmentalists want to protect the natural value while locals of Mexico rely on the ocean for their livelihood. The ocean provides many natural resources that allow locals to live and make money and they fear that MPAs will prevent them from accessing these vital resources. The differing opinions between the environmentalists and the locals brings about the conflict of using science as a base for creating MPAs versus using traditional knowledge, or a combination of both. According to LGEEPA and SEMARNAT, they both see the importance of involving the local community, stakeholders, and indigenous people when creating MPAs because they contribute traditional knowledge about the area that scientists do not possess (Fraga 2008).

Figure 2: Table illustrates the large number of MPAs created because of traditional knowledge, showing the importance of a cultural background in forming an MPA in Mexico (Fraga 2008).

Figure 2: Table illustrates the large number of MPAs created because of traditional knowledge, showing the importance of a cultural background in forming an MPA in Mexico (Fraga 2008).

These local inhabitants are crucial to creating successful MPAs because with their knowledge they can form advisory councils which propose better management strategies based on the knowledge of their local area, they can evaluate and add onto a management plan, involve the public with conservation and restoration, express opinions on certain projects in the area, collaborate to solve emergencies in MPAs, find financial support, and promote research projects to improve the MPA (DOF 2007). The people who live in an area know best about the area and therefore should be consulted before any rules and regulations are created (Berkes 2001). Indigenous peoples thus help create more effective protected areas because their knowledge relies on the relationship between humans and their interaction with environment and how to coexist sustainably.

Actam Chuleb, a Mexican MPA created in 1997 voluntarily by the people of San Felipe to protect their fisheries, involved the local community in making decisions and creating management plans to improve their marine ecosystem, but it was only a temporary success. San Felipe is a coastal village relying heavily on ocean resources for survival. To protect the ocean, the fishing cooperative and a council called “Las Fuerzas Vivas” worked together to create this MPA. Certain weaknesses within the system, however, caused the MPA to become less effective than originally planned due to a lack of communication and information sharing between the Actam Chuleb NGO, the city of San Felipe, stakeholders, and the Secretariat of Ecology of Yucatan State.

The lack of communication arose from the divide of the fishing cooperative because after a while they wanted to regain benefits of fishing and no longer supported the MPA.  Limited information caused stakeholders to lose interest and people became unclear as to the legal framework of the MPA. The weak framework made the MPA essentially ineffective because without enforcement, people used the area as they pleased with disregard for the regulations. Lack of coordination between patrollers of the MPA and local government created ineffective law enforcement as well, furthering the failure of the MPA (Fraga 2008). Although the town tried to incorporate the entire community in decision-making and management of the MPA, a lack of communication and coordination between all the different parties led to failure.

For Mexico to create effective protected areas, they must begin to implement centralized strategies so that the communities and governments are working together under the same rules and regulations. One of the biggest weaknesses in Mexico regarding MPAs is the lack of coordination and cooperation between the different levels of government including federal, state, and municipal (Mesta 2004). Unless Mexico begins to homogenize the government and laws, using intra and inter state cooperation (Rivera-Arriaga 2004), creating an effective MPA will be difficult. One study proposes multiple solutions to Mexico’s various problems including more patrol and equipment for patrolling MPAs, more funds to pay for costs associated with MPAs, strategies to improve communication between local and state governments, modified laws and regulations and management plans (becoming more flexible) to match the current status of the areas, alternative options for locals who depend on the ocean as a resource, and better environmental education for stakeholders and the public (Fraga 2008).

If Mexico can manage to fulfill all of these requirements, especially the centralization and coordination of marine governance, then perhaps in the future an MPA will fulfill its job in protecting the natural resources, environmental services, and biodiversity of an area so that future generations can enjoy the marine luxuries that Mexico has to offer.

Author Bio: Alanna Waldman is a rising senior at the University of Southern California majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Spanish. She is hoping to get her Ph.D. in marine biology after graduation, and loves traveling, swimming, and reading.

Works Cited:

Berkes, F, R Mahon, P McConney, R Pollnac and R Pomeroy. Managing small-scale fisheries: alternative directions and methods. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2001.

Bezaury-Creel, J E. “Protected areas and coastal and ocean management in México”. Ocean and Coastal Management, Vol. 48, No. 11-12, 2005.

DOF. Ley general del equilibrio ecológico y la protección al ambiente. Diario Oficial de la Federación 28 de enero de 1988, ultima reforma publicada en el 5 de julio de 2007. México: DOF, 2007.

Fraga, Julia and Ana Jesus. Coastal and Marine Protected Areas in Mexico. India: International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, 2008.

INEGI. Información geográfica: aspectos generales del territorio Mexicano, 2007. (Accessed on 20 March 2013). http://mapserver.inegi.gob.mx/geografia/espanol/ datosgeogra/extterri/frontera.cfm?s=geo&c=920

Mesta, M E and M E Martínez. “Identificación y caracterización de conflictos en zonas marino costeras”. In E Rivera-Arriaga, G J Villalobos-Zapata, I Azuz-Adeath, F Rosado-May (eds.). El manejo costero en México, Universidad Autónoma de Campeche, SEMARNAT, CETYS-Universidad, Universidad de Quintana Roo. México: CETYS-Universidad, 2004.

Rivera-Arriaga, E and I Azuz-Adeath. “Manejo Costero en México ante los acuerdos de Johannesburgo”. In E Rivera-Arriaga, GJ Villalobos-Zapata, I Azuz-Adeath, F Rosado-May (eds.). El manejo costero en México, Universidad Autónoma de Campeche, SEMARNAT, CETYS-Universidad, Universidad de Quintana Roo. México: CETYS-Universidad, 2004.

SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales) 2007b, Programa nacional de medio ambiente y recursos naturales 2007-2012. Distrito Federal, México: SEMARNAT, 2007.

Vidal, L E. Evaluación de la eficiencia de la legislación en un ecosistema natural, un ambiente costero. Ph D thesis, Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politecnico Nacional, Unidad Mérida, Departamento de Recursos del Mar. Mérida: Unidad Mérida, 2005.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.   This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

Posted in Guam, Palau, USC | Leave a comment

The lost cousins of Homo sapiens in Asia and the South Pacific

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Paige Minteer

The evolution of humans is the result of a number of speciation events that have built upon one another to create the modern-day human species: Homo sapiens. Humans are believed to have evolved from a line of ancestors dating millions of years ago and originating in Africa.  The subsequent Homo sapien ancestors dispersed across Europe and Asia.  Of particular note are the “Homo denisova“, of which fragments were found in Siberia, and Homo floresiensis, of which fragments have been found in Flores, Indonesia.  Both of these species are of particular relevance to the Southeast Asian and Pacific Island areas because of their continued presence in the DNA of modern humans living there.

This evolutionary tree shows the relationship of Denisova to both modern humans and Neanderthals.  Note that they are in fact more closely related to Neanderthals than humans, but appear to be very close to both.

This evolutionary tree shows the relationship of Denisova to both modern humans and Neanderthals. Note that they are in fact more closely related to Neanderthals than humans, but appear to be very close to both. Image: http://johnhawks.net/taxonomy/term/denisova

“Homo denisova” is considered to be a bridge species between the Neanderthal ancestors and the Homo sapiens species.  They are said to have bred with modern humans, and potentially Neanderthals, producing hybrid people.  “Homo denisova” are assumed to have had dark skin, brown eyes and brown hair.  The teeth are larger than that of which Neanderthals and modern humans have, but more evidence is needed to further extrapolate the size and looks of this species (Hawks 2013).  The only remnants of the “Homo denisova” species that have been found are a small toe bone fragment and two molars.  This has been enough, however, to create a basic genomic sequence of the species.  From this, genome researchers have traced gene markers to help determine the migration patterns of the species.  By analyzing the gene flow of various generations of people in various areas in Eastern Europe, Asia and the South Pacific, researchers have been able to decipher the movement of the “Homo denisova”.  The origin of this species, however, is debated.  While original estimates of the age of the bones make the species too old to be a shoot-off of the H. heidelbergensis species, some argue that it could be a very early speciation from this original species.  Others believe “H. denisova” could bring to light a non-erectus evolutionary line.  This differentiated evolutionary line would be a large branch-off compared to the branching depicted in current theories of human evolution.

Regardless of the ancestry of “H. denisova”, the presence of this hominid has proved the evolution of humans in Asia to be far more complicated than originally believed.

“Homo denisova”, however, is not the only intermediate Homo species in the modern human’ s ancestry.  Homo floresiensis is another pre-modern human species common to the East Asia region. First discovered in Flores, Indonesia, H. floresiensis has been nicknamed the ‘Hobbit’ species because of its small size.  Scientists have found many near-whole skeletons of this species on the island.

Possible routes of evolution for Homo floresiensis (Baab)

Possible routes of evolution for Homo floresiensis (Baab)

This species is so closely related to the modern human that some scientists argue that they are merely a large group of dwarfs, not an entirely new species.  The consensus, however, is that H. floresiensis is its own species.  The small size is often accounted for by a phenomenon called island dwarfism. Used as an adaptation strategy when a species is confined to a small island with few resources for an extended period of time, the average size of individuals diminishes, causing the dwarfism seen in H. floresiensis.  This adaptation strategy is mimicked by the pygmy elephants that are now extinct but may have been hunted by H. floresiensis (Natural History Museum 2010).   However, some reject this island dwarfism theory based on the brain size of H. floresiensis.  The brain of this species is about one third that of Homo erectus.  Some assert, however, that typical cases of island dwarfism do not show brains shrinking at the same rate as the body.  A third theory postulates that the Homo floresiensis is a pre-erectus hominid, or species that existed before the erectus family evolved, that speciated earlier than originally thought.  Evidence from the skeletons supports this hypothesis, in that many features are closer to those of chimpanzees than of humans.  The main problem with this hypothesis, however, is that there is no evidence for an intermediate species or this species on mainland Asia, proving no documentation for their transport to the island.  While the exact ancestry and origin of Homo floresiensis is still up for debate, the existence of the species has contributed to the complex analysis of human evolution.

The theory of the diaspora of humans radiating away from their African homeland has been remolded and changed due to the discoveries of these newer forms of human ancestors.  Homo floresiensis in particular exemplifies a divergent path from the original, linear idea of human evolution.  While there is little certainty of the exact point of speciation, scientists postulate that this species evolved separately from other Homo erectus species because of their isolation on the island of Flores.  Scientists are still debating how the original people arrived on the island, because it is many miles away from the nearest Asian mainland.  While these people are thought to have used stone tools and perhaps fire, they are not believed to have built ships.  In terms of migration, the story of “Homo denisova” is even more muddled.  Scientists have used DNA analysis in order to try and determine the gene flow and therefore migration of the “Homo denisova” peoples.  It is believed that these people migrated south from Russia towards South East Asia and met and bred with humans in their travels, creating a hybrid peoples (Harmon 2012).  This information is based on the fact that many people of the South East Asian region share 5-6% of their DNA with Denisovan ancestors (Harmon 2012). It is believed that the people of mainland Asia do not contain the same amount of “H. denisova” DNA because subsequent waves of migrations hybridized the people and slowly replaced any trace of this DNA from the population. Specifically, “H. denisova” DNA is most prominently found in the people of Melanesia, New Guinea and South East Asia (Natural History Museum 2010). The “H. denisova” population is said to have been small and contained little genetic diversity.  This persistence of the “H. denisova” DNA suggests that these ancient ancestors aren’t as removed from modern humans as might be assumed.

A discovery made in Palau in 2008 suggests that there may have been similar hobbit people on the Rock Islands.  A researcher in Koror, Palau, Lee Berger, discovered some Sapien bones.  While these bones have not been declared as specifically floresiensis or “denisova”, they appear to be similar in size.  Berger believes that these bones are humans that were subjected to island dwarfism.  Other scientists claim the bones could simply belong to children.  Berger’s research suggests that the Palauan brains are double the size of the hobbit’s brain.  These bones demonstrate people who have enlarged teeth and smaller chins, which can be attributed to the island dwarfism process.  These bones were found in caves on the rock islands, however these sites have been long known to tourists and many of the artifacts have been looted before researchers could thoroughly evaluate the findings.  (Dalton).  These findings have been evaluated and seem to support the island dwarfism theory more so than the delineation of floresiensis.  (Culotta)

The evolution of the human species not only speaks to the past of the humans, but also to the future.  The persistence of these ancestral human genes is still impacting human evolution today. “Homo denisova” and Homo floresiensis both remain somewhat of an enigma along the human evolutionary tree, but both of these species still provide useful incite into how humans have evolved.  Finding these previously unknown species has complicated the story of human evolution, but has also made it a more complete tale.

“Homo denisova” and Homo floresiensis are of particular relevance to Asia and the South Pacific because they represent a non-Neanderthal, non-African line of evolution in this region of the world.  These branching lines of evolution show the complicated, non-linear, nature of human evolution.  Humans are complicated creatures and come from a complex ancestry, but it is through discoveries like remnants of “Homo denisova” and Homo floresiensis that the convoluted past becomes increasingly clear.

Author Bio: Paige Minteer is a sophomore in Environmental Studies at the University of Southern California.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.   This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

References

Baab, Karen L. 2012. “Homo Floresiensis: Making Sense of the Small-Bodied Hominin Fossils from Flores.” Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group, Web. 23 Mar. 2013. <http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/homo-floresiensis-making-sense-of-the-small-91387735>.

Culotta, Elizabeth. “Hobbit Redux?” – ScienceNOW. Science, 11 Mar. 2008. Web. 14 June 2013.

Dalton, Rex. “Pacific “dwarf” Bones Cause Controversy.” Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group, 10 Mar. 2008. Web. 14 June 2013.

“DNA of Ancient Siberian Human Uncovered.” Natural History Museum. N.p., 25 Mar. 2010. Web. 23 Mar. 2013. <http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2010/march/dna-of-ancient-siberian-human-uncovered62927.html>.

Flatow, Ira. “Meet Your Ancient Relatives: The Denisovans.” NPR. N.p., 31 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <Meet Your Ancient Relatives: The Denisovans>.

Groves, Colin. “The Homo Floresiensis Controversy.” HAYATI Journal of Biosciences. Dec. 2007. Web. 23 Mar. 2013. <http://journal.ipb.ac.id/index.php/hayati/article/view/252/118>.

Harmon, Katherine. “New DNA Analysis Shows Ancient Humans Interbred with Denisovans: Scientific American.” New DNA Analysis Shows Ancient Humans Interbred with Denisovans: Scientific American. N.p., 30 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Mar. 2013. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=denisovan-genome>.

Hawks, John. “Denisova.” John Hawks Weblog. N.p., 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2013. <http://johnhawks.net/taxonomy/term/denisova>.

Stringer, Chris. “Ancient Denisovans and the Human Family Tree.” Natural History Museum. N.p., 12 Jan. 2011. Web. 23 Mar. 2013. <http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2011/january/ancient-denisovans-and-the-human-family-tree93500.html>.

Tocheri, Matt. “Homo Floresiensis.” Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2013. <http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-floresiensis>.

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A Persistent Case of Diabetes Mellitus in Guam

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Amanda Ungco

Proud of their culture and successes, Americans have soaked up the American dream and have broadened their wings to influence the rest of the world. Many of these influences manifest themselves as good deeds, bringing students, volunteers and various charity organizations to third world countries in an attempt to better the universal quality of life. Americans in some ways hold themselves as the older brother taking care of other countries and underdeveloped areas that need the guiding hand of a gentle and loving older sibling.

The American influence however has not always been a positive one. Rising rates of obesity and chronic sedentary disease seem to have also been spread to various American territories. In the age of supersized fries and the infamous Big Gulp, Americans themselves seem to be growing as wide as their influence. This increase in chronic disease due to unhealthy lifestyle choices has been particularly prevalent in the American Territory of Guam.

The island of Guam has a rich history and culture dating back 4000 years. The original inhabitants and the natives to the island are known as Chamorros, but the island is now home to several other ethnicities as well, including Filipinos, Malaysians and Caucasians. The US gained control of the island in the Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish American War. Less than fifty years later, the Japanese invaded the island in December 1941. Until recent decades, the Chamorros enjoyed a diet mainly consistent of their native plants and fish from their surrounding waters. They survived largely through subsistence farming.

The end of the Second World War changed everything for the Chamorro diet and lifestyle. During the war, US soldiers were sent rations of processed meats and imported foods that were high in sodium and preservatives in order to make the long trip across the ocean. Along with the soldiers, the local people also began to eat the processed food. After the end of the war, the lives of Guam natives completely changed from subsistence farming to a wage based economy that spiked the reliance on imported food and goods (Kuberski & Bennet 1980).

Guam’s climate is very hot and humid which has contributed to the sedentary lifestyle that many people in this region now lead. It is difficult, not to mention dangerous, for Chamorrods to exercise outside due to risk of overheating and heat stroke. As a result many individuals lead lifestyles of very low physical activity.  The lack of exercise, abundance of unhealthy foods and Chamorros’ genetic predisposition to type II diabetes is most certainly the creation of a perfect storm (Kuberski & Bennett 1980). In a normal healthy body, the pancreas produces insulin to break down sugars and carbohydrates to keep blood sugar levels even. Individuals with diabetes, however, have a condition in which the insulin is not being produced adequately enough or not at all. Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, also known as Type I diabetes is genetic and requires patients to inject themselves with insulin regularly. Type II diabetes however can be onset by lifestyle habits. It is often onset by overweight individuals whose fat inhibits the reception of insulin to the target cells.

After a study done in 2009, only 41.9% of Chamorro citizens were considered to be normal weight, leaving 36.2 % and 21.9 % of the population to be overweight and obese respectively (Guerrero et al 2009).  These rates have risen in tandem with American statistics of overweight individuals. However the main difference in the two statistics is that Chamorros are found to have more children and adolescents who suffer from these weight changes as well. These heavy gains have contributed significantly to the death toll that Guam faces; 60% of deaths in Guam were linked to poor lifestyle habits. Low activity and a diet rich in salt and fat laden foods are taking their toll. Sweetened beverages loaded with sugar also make up about 9% of Chamorros’ dietary intake (Guerrero & Workman 2002). The spread of western culture to the people of Guam has been quite detrimental.

Children in particular have fallen victim to the spread of poor dietary habits in Guam, with even worse statistics than in America. A study was carried out in a middle school and high school and found that, alarmingly, 26% of middle school children in Guam eat fast food at least three times a week, 53.3% of students drink at least two cans of soda a day, and the most shocking: 75.3% of students have consumed less than one fruit or vegetable serving per day. Imagine an environment with no high school students biting into a juicy red apple or grabbing a banana for a rushed breakfast. None of the high school students surveyed had eaten the correct (FDA recommended) amount of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and only 24.7% of students consumed any type of produce at all.  What’s more, only 37.7% of students have participated in strengthening exercises like weight lifting, pushups or sit-ups.

These lifestyle habits put Chamorro adolescents at high risk of a whole slew of chronic sedentary illnesses including type II diabetes—not something any young person wants to deal with. The scary part of adolescent diabetes and poor lifestyle habits is that these kids will grow up and continue to live in this way. Chronic exposure to poor health habits ensures these kids a life of health problems and chronic disease. The average age of individuals in Guam is only 18.9 years, younger than a majority of college kids, so the prevalence of lifestyle diseases among younger citizens is expected to escalate.

The onset of diabetes has been shown to begin earlier for Chamorros with the majority of diabetic inflicted individuals around the age of 45, over twenty years younger than the U.S. mainland average of 68 years old. Diabetes is the fourth leading cause of death in Guam and directly influences the first two causes—heart disease and stroke. Diabetes is also linked to blindness, kidney failure, and amputation among other unfortunate illnesses.

This disease places a huge financial strain on Chamorro healthcare especially because many individuals do not have private health insurance. The treatment of these chronic illnesses come from government funding and tax dollars. Although it would entail a significant starting investment, changes must be made to the Chamorro lifestyle in order to ensure a healthier, happier population in the future.

In an attempt to improve Chamorro lifestyle, small efforts have been made to improve diabetic health. As always, awareness has become the most successful and far-reaching resource thus far, educating adolescents and adults alike, in preventing and controlling diabetes. As highlighted by the Guam Diabetes Association there is awareness for the need of more healthy options in the school cafeterias and the implementation of physical education classes and sports in school to help fight this engrossing disease.

Although it may be rough waters now, programs that have been created in the last few years are being implemented into Chamorro society that in the future will lead to a healthier society and smooth sailing up ahead.

Author’s Bio: Amanda Ungco is a rising sophomore at the University of Southern California majoring in Environmental Science and Health.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.   This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

References:

Guerrero, Racheael T Leon, PhD, Yvette C. Paulino, PhD, and Suzanne P. Murphy, PhD. “Diet and Obesity among Chamorro and Filipino Adults on Guam.”National Institues of Health. N.p., 19 Oct. 2009. Web.

LeonGuerrero, Rachael T., and Randall L. Workman. “Physical Activity and Nutritional Status of Adolescents on Guam.” Pacific Health Dialogue. N.p., 2002. Web.

Kuberski, Timothy T., and Peter H. Bennett. “Diabetes Mellitus as an Emerging Public Health Problem on Guam.” American Diabetes Association. N.p., Mar.-Apr. 1980. Web.

Pobocik, Rebecca S., PhD, Jennifer J. Richer, and Barbara K. O’Donnel, PhD. “Foods Most Frequently Consumed by Fifth Grade Children on Guam.” Pacific Health Dialogue. N.p., n.d. Web.

Annette M., MD, Joel Marc C. Rubio, MD, Patrick S. Luces, Rose V. Zabala, MSW, and J Petter Roberto, MSW. “Getting the Patients’ Perspective: A Survey of Diabetes Services on Guam.” National Institues of Health. N.p., June 2010. Web.

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An interconnected environment and economy – Shark tourism in Palau

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Brenna Schneider

As a small, isolated island, the country of Palau has a limited number of income options. Today the tourism industry is a vital source of income for this nation state, as it makes up about 56% of Palau’s gross domestic product (GDP) (Vianna et al, 2012). There are more than 40,000 divers who visit Palau each year who spend money on lodging, food, equipment, boats, souvenirs and guides, among other things. This money stimulates the economy by creating jobs, and consequently accounts for more than 39% of the nation’s GDP. Of the many divers who choose to visit Palau every year, many specifically visit to shark dive.

Stickers such as this, along with various other forms of paraphernalia are sold in many shops in downtown Koror. Photo by the author

Stickers such as this, along with various other forms of paraphernalia are sold in many shops in downtown Koror. Photo by the author

Divers choose to shark dive in Palau because the white tip and grey reef sharks who reside in Palauan waters are predictable- they are in relatively high numbers, and they spend 99% of their lives in one place, in their “home”(Vianna et al, 2012). The predictability of sharks in Palau makes divers confident that they will have a worthwhile experience, even before they get on the plane. Sharks are a massive component of the tourism industry in Palau, which is fortunate because they are a renewable resource- it is expected that they will stay in Palau attracting divers as long as they are safe and their environment is taken care of.

In 2010 the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences and The University of Western Australia published a research paper that stated the economic importance of sharks to the economy of Palau (Vianna et al, 2012). The study uses statistics based on surveys and the collection and compilation of data to prove that it is much more economically beneficial to keep the sharks alive then to allow them to be captured and killed. The study concludes that each reef shark can contribute almost two million dollars to the economy of Palau within their sixteen year expected lifespan (Sinha, 2011). On the other hand, if a fisherman kills a shark he might be able to get a one-time payment of a couple of hundreds of dollars for the shark’s fins (Sinha, 2011).

The study solidifies the shark’s important role in the economy, and makes obvious the fact that protecting the sharks of Palau is a wise economic investment. In recent years, Palau has taken this information and has progressively pursued options that secure the safety and health of Palauan sharks. In 2003, the Protected Area Network (PAN) act passed into law in Palau. The goal of this act is to connect community land with government land and privately owned land to encourage cooperation to preserve biodiversity and to sustainably manage available resources (Palau protected areas network (PAN), 2012). Protected lands can apply to be part of PAN, and thence are eligible for national funding, other such resources, and are officially part of a national monitoring system. The act was revised in 2008 to include a Green Fee, which is a $50 departure fee charged to guests leaving Palau, that goes straight to the PAN piggybank (Palau protected areas network (PAN), 2012).

After PAN was enacted, a broader task was undertaken by the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, called the Micronesia Challenge (Micronesia Challenge Update, 2008). The countries committed to Micronesia Challenge are tasked with the goal of conservation of at least 30% of their near-shore land and resources, and at least 20% of their terrestrial resources by 2020(Micronesia Challenge Update, 2008). The sense of competition incited from this challenge is an effective way of causing actual legislative change in the participating states. Since the creation of the Micronesian Challenge, each country has made progress towards the larger goal and has done so proudly.

This is one of the first signs visitors see in the Palau airport, informing tourists of Palau’s significant contributions to shark conservation. Photo by the author

This is one of the first signs visitors see in the Palau airport, informing tourists of Palau’s significant contributions to shark conservation. Photo by the author

More recently, in 2009 Palau’s waters were declared to be a shark sanctuary under the Shark Haven Act of 2009(United Nations, President Johnson Toribiong, 2009). Commercial shark fishing is officially banned in Palau, and in this declaration former President Johnson Toribiong lists reasons why sharks are important, not just in Palau but all around the world. He focuses on the environmental role of sharks instead of the economic role, by placing a strong emphasis on their role as a top predator in the ecosystem. Sharks are apex predators who develop slowly and produce a relatively small number of offspring, so their existence is especially important to the ecosystem (United Nations, President Johnson Toribiong, 2009). If they continue to decrease in unsustainable numbers their absence would affect the entire food chain and ecosystem.

The Protected Area Network Act and the Shark Haven Act, combined with the will of the Palauan government to enforce laws, has inspired other Pacific island nation states to implement similar laws. After Palau created the first shark sanctuary, four of the Federated States of Micronesia have decided to ban commercial shark fishing and create a five million square kilometer “Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary”(Leahy, 2012). Palau is a global leader in shark conservation, being the 2012 recipients of the Future Policy Award, which is awarded to a country that the World Future Council feels have led by example, enacting policies to create “just, sustainable and peaceful societies”(Reis, 2012).

Despite the progressive restrictions to protect sharks in Palau, there are rule-breakers who continue fishing in restricted areas. As a component of Greenpeace’s “Defending our Pacific” ship expedition, the government of Palau and Greenpeace signed an agreement in December of 2011(Greenpeace, 2012). Greenpeace agreed to help the Palauan government “enforce fisheries regulations and bring illegal pirate fishing operations to justice”(Republic of Palau, Office of the President, 2012). The agreement was useful recently, when Palauan officials and Greenpeace members caught a fishing boat illegally shark finning in Palau’s waters, charging the fishermen $65,000 and banning them from Palauan waters for a year (Republic of Palau, Office of the President, 2012). Similarly in July of last year, 53 Filipino fishermen were apprehended for illegally fishing in Palau. When they were caught, they were detained for more than a month, and each boat owner was charged $13,500 (Carreon, 2012). Some believed this punishment to be too lenient, as the fee was greatly reduced after the embassy of the Philippines made a plea to ex-President Johnson Toribiong.

The current system in place that protects the sharks of Palau works for multiple reasons. The system of protection is effective in part because the people of Palau understand the importance of the shark to their economy, their environment and their future. A Palauan young adult who is a member of the International Youth Forum Go4BioDiv, Heather Ketebengang, was recently quoted mentioning that the people of Palau were previously unaware of the occurrence of illegal shark finning in their country (Leahy, 2012). Now that they are educated on the subject, Palauans are in full support of banning of shark finning and the enforcement of the various laws in place to protect the sharks (Leahy, 2012). Additionally, within the Protected Areas Network Act, Palauans are given a large amount of control over the enforcement of restrictions on protected lands and the sustainable usage of the available natural resources. The Palauan communities handle this responsibility traditionally and fulfill their modern goals with the help of the government of Palau and other outside organizations and countries (Leahy, 2012).

Organizations such as Greenpeace, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility and The Nature Conservancy partner with the government of Palau and the Palauan people to enforce these progressive environmental laws. As mentioned above, Greenpeace has signed a joint agreement with the government of Palau, and are helping Palauans monitor the shark sanctuary for any law-breakers. Additionally, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and the Global Environment Facility have all pledged millions of dollars to the Micronesia Challenge, in hopes that the investment will allow the connections between the nation states to strengthen and the flow of information between countries to increase, thereby improving conservation on the whole(Conservation International, 2012). Outside countries are also aiding in this attempted goal, by donating resources such as boats (Leahy, 2012).

The author, diving with sharks at Ulong Channel in Palau. Photo by Olivia Trombadore

The author, diving with sharks at Ulong Channel in Palau. Photo by Olivia Trombadore

Significant resources are contributed to enforce laws that protect the environment and the natural resources of Palau, especially sharks, because data proves that the environmental health of Palau is vital to it’s long-term economic survival. The substantial numbers of tourists who flock to Palau each year to enjoy SCUBA diving, specifically shark diving, prove to be a vital source of income for the country. Congruently, the sharks of Palau are considered a keystone species that is necessary for the survival of the large marine food chain they dominate, and so the environment and economy are irreversibly dependent on one another.

The mutual dependence between the economy and the environment has a very positive effect on the country and many other countries around it. Dependence is undeniable based on the amount of money shark diving brings to the country, so environmental conservation and protection measures were quickly developed and implemented. The quick adoption of such regulations, caused by the willingness of the government and people of Palau to participate, caused Palau to be a leader in such sustainable environmental conservation, and created a domino-like effect on the countries around it. Today, four nation states of Micronesia banned shark fishing in their territories, and an even greater number of countries participate in The Micronesia Challenge, which pushes countries to conserve and protect land and sea environments, resources, and organisms, not solely sharks.

The culture of conservation that has taken place in Palau because of the interconnectivity between the economy and the environment has spread throughout the Pacific and has caused many natural environments to be protected and sustainably managed. This is a positive first step towards widespread environmental awareness that is necessary for a thriving future.

References:

Carreon, B. (2012, July 13). 53 Pinoy fishermen, nabbed for fishing illegally in Palau, released Thursday. GMA News Online. Retrieved March 15, 2013, from http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/265341/pinoyabroad/crime/53-pinoy-fishermen-nabbed-for-fishing-illegally-in-palau-released-thursday

Conservation International. (2012, March 15). Conservation International Makes $3 Million Pledge to the Micronesia Challenge [Press release]. Retrieved March 13, 2013, from http://www.conservation.org/newsroom/pressreleases/Pages/Conservation-International-makes-$3-Million-Pledge-to-Micronesia-Challenge.aspx

Greenpeace. (2012, November 8). Palau authorities sink illegal fish aggregation devices [Press release]. Retrieved March 15, 2013, from http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/ph/press/releases/Palau-authorities-sink-illegal-fish-aggregation-devices/

Leahy, S. (2012, Oct 22). Environment: Palau proves sharks worth more alive than dead. Global Information Network. Retrieved March 10, 2013, from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1114044301?accountid=14749

Sinha, S. (2011, May 3). Palau identifies Shark tourism to drive economy. International Business Times. Retrieved March 10, 2013, from http://www.ibtimes.com/palau-identifies-shark-tourism-drive-economy-282071

Palau protected areas network (PAN). (2012). Palau Conservation Society. Retrieved March 20, 2013, from http://www.palauconservation.org/cms/index.php/conservation-programs/conservation-and-protected-areas/palau-protected-areas-network-pan

Reis, A. (2012, September 26). Future Policy Award 2012 goes to Palau | Global Environment Facility. Future Policy Award 2012 Goes to Palau | Global Environment Facility. Retrieved March 10, 2013, from http://www.thegef.org/gef/news/future-policy-award-2012-goes-palau

Republic of Palau, Office of the President. (2012, February). Palau Announces Settlement with Taiwan over Shark-Finning Violation [Press release]. Retrieved March 10, 2013, from http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/oceans/2012/Palau%20Pres%20Press%20Release.pdf

Micronesia Challenge Update. (2008). The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved March 20, 2013, from http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/asiaandthepacific/micronesia/howwework/index.htm

United Nations, President Johnson Toribiong. (2009, September 25). Declaration naming Palau’s waters a shark sanctuary [Press release]. Retrieved March 15, 2013, from http://www.pewenvironment.org/uploadedFiles/PEG/Publications/Fact_Sheet/PEG_SharkProtections_March2011.pdf

Vianna, G. M., Meekan, M. G., Pannell, D. J., Marsh, S. P., & Meeuwig, J. J. (2012). Socio-economic value and community benefits from shark-diving tourism in Palau: A sustainable use of reef shark populations. Biological Conservation, 145(1), 267-277. doi: http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.usc.edu/10.1016/j.biocon.2011.11.022

Author Bio: Brenna Schneider is a rising junior in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences working towards a degree in International Relations with a minor in Environmental Studies. In the future, she hopes to affect and improve international environmental policy.

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Before and After the Storm: The Impacts of Typhoon Bopha on Palauan Reefs

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Michael Young and David Ginsburg

Editors Note: The team has been in Palau for the past week conducting surveys. This post deals with the central opportunity afforded by this year’s trip.

Figure 1. The red arrow indicates where the storm veered south of Koror, Palau. Palau was still affected by the storm, but the most populous areas were spared from the strongest winds.

Figure 1. The red arrow indicates where the storm veered south of Koror, Palau. Palau was still affected by the storm, but the most populous areas were spared from the strongest winds.

Approximately 500 miles north of the equator, the Republic of Palau lies just outside of the northern Pacific typhoon belt. Given its geographic location, only three typhoons have threatened the Palauan archipelago with serious damage over the last 60 years. In December 2012, however, NOAA weather reports called for “a one in a million typhoon” (later named, Super Typhoon Bopha) to hit Palau – a serious matter in this part of the world as the region’s natural and built environment is not able to easily recover from the direct impact of typhoon force winds and seas.

Typhoon Bopha was expected to hit Palau in the early morning of December 3rd, but at the last minute Bopha veered ~50 miles south of Koror. While Palau’s built environment was spared marked destruction, coral reef ecosystems were not as lucky. For example, many of the nearshore and outer reef areas along the eastern fringe of Koror State (site of the Rock Island Southern Lagoon UNESCO World Heritage and Cultural Site) were significantly damaged by storm waves – in some cases reaching heights of more than 35 feet or more (Paul Collins, pers. comm.).

Watching the events of Typhoon Bopha unfold (both before and after the storm) from a warm, dry office in Southern California was surreal. For the past several years students from the USC Environmental Studies Program have visited Palau to assist conservation and enforcement officers from the Koror State Government and local scientists from the Coral Reef Research Foundation to monitor and survey many of the eastern reef areas that Bopha was slated to destroy. From an academic perspective, one of the positive outcomes to emerge from Bopha was an experiential learning opportunity for students to witness first-hand the devastating impacts that severe storms have on the natural environment. Not only did the USC program have two years of coral reef survey data before the storm, we were scheduled to return to Palau for another season (post-Bopha).

Currently, we are in the midst of collecting survey data for a third consecutive year. Looking through our pre-Bopha (2011 and 2012) photo archives and witnessing the same reef sites this week, the difference is staggering. Some of the most startling scenes are of massive coral heads (in some cases, 6-8 feet in diameter) that were rolled like bowling balls onto the reef crest and underwater fields of reef rubble from once vibrant branching corals. Although we have not yet analyzed this year’s post-Bopha survey data, there appears to be markedly fewer reef fish (especially large predators such as Jacks and Wrasses) and benthic invertebrates (e.g., giant clams, se cucumbers, etc.) than previous years.

Ngederrak Reef, Koror State, Palau, before (2012) Typhoon Bopha. Images by D. Ginsburg.

Ngederrak Reef, Koror State, Palau, before (2012) Typhoon Bopha. Image by D. Ginsburg.

Ngederrak Reef, Koror State, Palau, after (2013) Typhoon Bopha. Images by D. Ginsburg.

Ngederrak Reef, Koror State, Palau, after (2013) Typhoon Bopha. Image by D. Ginsburg.

This is a tremendous opportunity USC faculty and students who (as part of our curricula) are trained at identifying Indo-Pacific indicator species (e.g., fish, invertebrates), and will greatly benefit from working in real-time with local resource managers in the field. It is our hope these data will serve as an added value to ongoing conservation efforts by Koror State conservation officials and local scientists.

About the Authors: Michael Young is a rising sophomore Environmental Studies major at the University of Southern California.  While participating in a high school competition he co-founded Myactions.org. David Ginsburg is an Assistant Professor (Teaching) of Environmental Studies at the University of Southern California. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Ginsburg serves as the coordinator of the Environmental Studies master’s degree program and oversees directed student research projects both above and below the water.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.   This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

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The UNESCO World Heritage Site Selection Process

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Caroline Smith

The term ‘Heritage’ is not always an easy word for people to define. However, a word that is often used to describe one’s heritage is legacy. It is what we have done in the past, and what we will pass on to the future. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, sums it up well by defining cultural and natural heritages as “irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration…our touchstones, our points of reference, our identity” (World Heritage 2008). After World War I, demand increased for an international movement to protect the World’s heritage, and in 1972, following the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, UNESCO adopted the Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage—and thus the beginning of World Heritage Site listings. This convention spearheaded the universal desire for balance between human interactions (cultural heritage) and the need to preserve our environment (natural heritage).

The UNESCO World Heritage Emblem stands for the close relationship between the world’s natural and cultural diversity. The circle is meant to celebrate the beauty of nature and the inside square represents the effects of combining human skill and inspiration. The circular inscription represents the global mission for the protection of mankind’s heritage, following the shape of the world itself. Image from UNESCO.

The UNESCO World Heritage Emblem stands for the close relationship between the world’s natural and cultural diversity. The circle is meant to celebrate the beauty of nature and the inside square represents the effects of combining human skill and inspiration. The circular inscription represents the global mission for the protection of mankind’s heritage, following the shape of the world itself. Image from UNESCO.

Today, the Convention has 190 State signatories, each committed to upholding the mission of UNESCO’s World Heritage—“to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” But what exactly qualifies as cultural or natural heritage? As defined by UNESCO, cultural heritage includes monuments, such as architectural structures, art and science pieces, while natural heritage includes formations that are of “Outstanding Universal Value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view”—the point of view of conservation, natural beauty, or science (Operational Guidelines 2012). UNESCO focuses on bringing together unique, irreplaceable, and diverse areas of the world as part of our global heritage, a common good that belongs to each of us regardless of nationality.

The Convention also set up the World Heritage Committee, which oversees a World Heritage Fund that allocates grants to sites in need for the purpose of “identifying, preserving and promoting” World Heritage sites (World Heritage 2008). The Committee’s most important job, however, is determining which sites get added to the World Heritage List, a list that now consists of 962 areas (745 cultural, 188 natural, and 29 mixed).

As stated before, in order to be deemed a World Heritage site, the location must be of Outstanding Universal Value, demonstrating international significance; it must “transcend national boundaries and be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity” (Operational Guidelines 2012). It must also meet at least one of the following six cultural (I-VI) or four natural (VII-X) heritage criteria:

Selection Criteria:

    1. To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
    2. To exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
    3. To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
    4. To be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
    5. To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
    6. To be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
    7. To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
    8. To be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
    9. To be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
    10. To contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

The protection, management, authenticity and integrity of properties are also important considerations.

This information was taken from the UNESCO website. A more detailed description of each criterion can be found in the 2012 Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, Pages 23-24. http://whc.unesco.org/archive/opguide12-en.pdf

The complicated and often long process begins with each of the 190 States making a “Tentative List”—essentially taking stock of any sites within its territory that demonstrate natural and cultural importance. This is a list that each State Party will pull from when nominating a site for inscription. If a State finds that a site within their boundaries qualifies as having Outstanding Universal Value and demonstrates one of the ten criteria, it may choose to present a nomination file for that site. This file is extensive, including items such as maps, thematic studies, property history, and other necessary documentation needed to prove the Outstanding Universal Value of the site. State Parties are encouraged to seek contributions from local inhabitants, governments, Non-Governmental Organizations, and other people who may be interested or have information regarding the site. Once the file is submitted, the Advisory Bodies must approve it, before sent to the World Heritage Committee. This Committee meets once per year and determines which sites meet the Outstanding Universal Value criteria necessary for Inscription. It has the power to reject or defer a decision, and also can remove sites from the list if they no longer meet the mandatory criteria. However, inscription is only the beginning of the story.

The current UNESCO World Heritage List includes 962 sites, all of which are deemed to be of cultural and natural significance and have been judged as having Outstanding Universal Value. The yellow dots signify cultural sites, the green natural sites, and the red dots are sites in danger. Photo from UNESCO.

The current UNESCO World Heritage List includes 962 sites, all of which are deemed to be of cultural and natural significance and have been judged as having Outstanding Universal Value. The yellow dots signify cultural sites, the green natural sites, and the red dots are sites in danger. Photo from UNESCO.

Once Inscribed on the World Heritage List, the State has agreed to an enduring obligation to ensure the management, conservation, and monitoring of its site(s). They must assess the sites every six years, writing reports on the state of the site and the measures established for the purpose of preservation and conservation. This allows the Committee to determine whether or not a site should be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, such as the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, and the Everglades National Park in the United States. Danger can be caused in many ways, a few of which are listed on the UNESCO Website, including: “Armed conflict and war, earthquakes and other natural disasters, pollution, poaching, uncontrolled urbanization, unchecked tourist development,” and more recently, climate change (Danger 2012). Inscription on this list allows the Committee to allocate funds from the World Heritage Fund for immediate assistance, and also serves to alert the world to the problems at hand with the hope of encouraging increased conservation and preservation efforts.

Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, Palau. Photo by Steven Alvarez, National Geographic

Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, Palau. Photo by Steven Alvarez, National Geographic

As one of the 26 students selected to participate in the 2013 University of Southern California’s Environmental Studies experiential program entitled “Integrated Ecosystem Management in Micronesia,” I have spent the past Spring Semester training through full American Academy of Underwater Sciences Scientific Diver training, and am ending the program by travelling to Guam and to one of the most recently inscribed World Heritage Sites: Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, in the Republic of Palau. After studying the stressed reefs and effects of overfishing, runoff, and military presence in the American Territory of Guam, the class is now conducting multiple species surveys within the restricted Ngderrak Marine Protected Area for the State of Koror in Palau, diving in and around the World Heritage Site, with special permission by the Governor of Koror.

The author “fighting on” during free time after completing her research exercise at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies on Catalina Island. Photograph by fellow student Megan Herring.

The author “fighting on” during free time after completing her research exercise at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies on Catalina Island. Photograph by fellow student Megan Herring.

This area is of mixed cultural and natural heritage, and contains 445 volcanically formed islands surrounded by delicate coral reefs. Culturally, the islands contain ruins and remains of small communities whose “abandonment…illustrates the consequences of climate change, population growth and subsistence behavior on a society living in a marginal marine environment” (Rock Islands 2012). Rich in both natural and cultural heritage, it is no surprise that UNESCO deemed it suitable for their list.

Prior to the trip across the Pacific, we spent a week on Catalina Island off the coast of California finishing up dive training and participating in lectures conducted by our five instructors and two teaching assistants. In these lectures, we studied marine species and the biology of coral reefs, as well as compared the marine governance in Catalina (a top-down approach) to that of Palau. Heavily rooted in tradition, Palau exhibits strong cultural and family ties to their coral reefs and marine areas, and thus demonstrates overwhelming support of the Marine Protected Areas and the regulation of the World Heritage Site. This cultural precedence to maintain and preserve the diverse and fruitful natural environment while still preserving their past traditions is exactly why Palau was chosen as exhibiting Outstanding Universal Value.

The Author (center) standing with instructors David Ginsburg and Kristen Weiss and rangers Princess, Harlan, and Mister at the Koror State Capital building.

The Author (center) standing with instructors David Ginsburg and Kristen Weiss and rangers Princess, Harlan, and Mister at the Koror State Capital building.

Part of maintaining the World Heritage Site requires “long term protection and management,” and UNESCO encourages the “constructive use of research on and preservation of traditional knowledge of the marine environment” (Rock Islands 2012). Beginning this year, the Guam and Palau program has added a governance focus to the class, working to map out the ties between the different parties interested in the resources within the area.

On our first day in Palau, I had the opportunity to speak with Harlan, Princess, and Mister, three Rangers for the Koror State Government about their experiences with the UNESCO inscription process. They worked with the past director over the preceding seven years to coordinate and negotiate a nomination file that would meet the UNESCO requirements for inscription. Fortunately, the Koror State Government had previously created a conservation management plan that was comprehensive and already included many of the requirements, including 16 Marine Protected Areas, so the remainder consisted mostly of tweaking and compromising.

“It was a lot of back and forth negotiation with UNESCO,” says Princess, “even though we had already done a lot to protect the area, there was still so much more we had to do.” They seemed proud of the inscription, but ambivalent about the process, and when I asked if the Palauans viewed it as an accomplishment, they responded by stating that most of the local people are not even aware. Perhaps this communication issue could be investigated in the governance research for future classes.

Classmate Amanda Ungco surveys for indicator species at Short Drop Off Reef in Palau. Photo by the author.

Classmate Amanda Ungco surveys for indicator species at Short Drop Off Reef in Palau. Photo by the author.

Harlan, Princess, and Mister joined our class in the field as we recorded underwater data counts of specific indicator species that would be representative of the health of the reef as a whole. Hopeful that the World Heritage Site will bring awareness to the reefs of Palau, the rangers are determined to restore damaged reefs and protect those that are thriving. They are excited and gracious that us researchers have joined them to provide data that they could use to request funding from UNESCO in case the site needs to be placed on the Danger list as climate change becomes more and more prevalent. The rangers are proud of their Palauan culture, and extremely proud of the natural beauty that surrounds them. I am hopeful that future classes can help breach the communication barriers that often inhibit the Koror State Government’s efforts.

The Rock Islands Southern Lagoon has provided us students with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to research the incredible diversity and deep-rooted culture both on land and beneath the sea surface. As one of 26 excited students who are still in shock that the trip is finally here, I have never been more ready to dive on in (pun intended).

Author Bio: Caroline Smith is a rising junior at the University of Southern California pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Studies from the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. After completing her research as part of the Guam and Palau Program, she plans to study abroad in Queensland, Australia to continue researching the marine governance and regulation structures, as well as participating in further scientific diving research. She intends to pursue a Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies as part of the USC Progressive Degree and to continue on to law school to earn a degree in Environmental Law.

Works Cited:

Alvarez, Steven. Palau‘s Rock Isands. N.d. Photograph. National Geographic, Palau. National Geographic. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

“Rock Islands Southern Lagoon.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre. N.p., 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

World Heritage Information Kit. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2008. 2008. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. Paris: Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 2012. 2012. Print. 20 Mar. 2013.

“World Heritage in Danger.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre. N.p., 2012. Web. 22 Mar. 2013.

Previously in this series:

The 2013 Guam and Palau Expedition Begins
A New Faculty Member on the Team
An Analysis of Sargassum Horneri Ecosystem Impact
Marine Protected Areas and Catalina Island: Conserve, Maintain and Enrich
Northern Elephant Seals: Increasing Population, Decreasing Biodiversity
The Relationship Between the Economy and Tourism on Catalina Island
Guam and Palau 2013: New Recruits and New Experiences
Bringing War to the “Island of Peace” – The Fight for the Preservation of Jeju-do
Dreading the Dredging: Military Buildup on Guam and Implications for Marine Biodiversity in Apra Harbor
Is the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Doing Enough?
The Status of Fisheries in China: How deep will we have to dive to find the truth?
The Philippines and Spratly Islands: A Losing Battle
The Effects of Climate Change on Coral Reef Health
The Senkaku/Diaoyu Island Dispute in the East China Sea

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.   This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies

Posted in Guam, Palau, USC | Leave a comment