September 18, 2001

Reef Check Receives MacArthur Foundation Grant to Test MAQTRAC

MacArthur Foundation Grants Promote Sustainable Fisheries as Alternative to Destructive Fishing Practices

$2.3 Million Will Contribute to Protection of Coral Reefs and Marine Habitats in Asia-Pacific Region

Chicago, IL -The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced grants totaling more than $2.3 million to promote environmentally sound and economically viable fishing practices in the coral reefs of the Asia Pacific region.

 The grants were made through the Conservation and Sustainable Development area of the Foundation's Program on Global Security and Sustainablility. This area of the Foundation is dedicated to conserving biodiversity and to building knowledge of how to use natural resources in ways that will not destroy or deplete them. The Foundation focuses this work in a small number of tropical regions chosen for their richness of species diversity and the level of the threats they face. One such area is the Asia-Pacific region, which is the focus of this set of grants. The MacArthur Foundation makes approximately $15 million in grants each year through the Conservation and Sustainable Development area.

Recipients include the Bishop Museum/Pacific Science Association, Environmental Legal Assistance Center, the International Marinelife Alliance, the Marine Aquarium Council, the Reef Check Foundation, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Wetlands International, and the World Wildlife Fund.

According to Mitchel Wallerstein, vice president of the Program on Global Security and Sustainability, over the past two decades an estimated 35 million acres of coral reef in the Asia-Pacific region has been destroyed due to destructive fishing practices – much of it related to the $1 billion live fish trade in the restaurant industry and the $200 million marine (salt water) aquarium business. “More than one million species of plants and animals—a quarter of all marine life—are believed associated with the coral reef ecosystem,” said Wallerstein. “Coral reefs provide food and income for millions of people, as well as valuable chemical compounds for medicines. We believe this important region can provide benefits to mankind without being destroyed in the process.”

A significant factor in the destruction of coral reefs is cyanide fishing, which involves stunning fish by introducing cyanide into the reef areas where they seek refuge. Cyanide poisons and kills coral polyps and other small organisms necessary for healthy reefs. An estimated 330,000 pounds of cyanide per year is used on Philippine coral reefs alone, where fewer than 10 percent of the reefs remain healthy. 

The demand for live fish in restaurants, primarily in Hong Kong and other Asian centers, has led to widespread use of cyanide by the commercial fishing industry. Fisherman are now moving from the over-harvested reefs of the Philippines to the more remote and pristine coral reefs in eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and other nations in the Western Pacific.

To educate importers, retailers, and consumers about the advantages of purchasing fish that have been harvested in a sustainable fashion without using cyanide, the Foundation will award grants to three organizations: