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Coral Reefs and Human Health

PI: Dr. Bruce Wilcox, University of Hawaii, and Ms. Kristin Duin, Sustainable Resources Group International, Inc.*

*External grantees

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) marine ecosystem is a 1,200-mile-long chain of islands, atolls, and coral reefs that contains approximately 70% of the reefs found in United States waters. This relatively pristine area – located hundreds of miles from Kauai, Hawaii’s northernmost inhabited island -- has more endemic fish and invertebrates than nearly any coral reef ecosystem in the world, and also boasts breeding populations of endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, and albatrosses. To protect this national treasure, in 2000 President Clinton took the important first step of creating the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, and in 2006 President Bush designated the area a National Monument. This created the world’s largest marine conservation area, banning fishing within as of 2011, and restricting human access.

In the Reserve’s first years, the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science (then known as the Pew Institute for Ocean Science) provided generous support to Dr. Bruce Wilcox of the University of Hawaii to compile information needed to create an ecosystem-based management (EBM) plan for the zone. At the time, science-based management policy research for these ecosystems in the Hawaiian Islands was seriously lacking, but was sorely needed to guide activities within the new Reserve. Dr. Wilcox documented existing and proposed commercial fishing activities in the Reserve and their possible ecological impacts, and identified appropriate mechanisms for integrating traditional ecological knowledge into the Reserve’s management. He also provided an historical analysis of fisheries resource management in the islands, documenting past mistakes and describing how EBM for coral reef ecosystem protection and sustainable fisheries should be approached for the future.

The initial IOCS project has grown considerably in size and scope since its inception. Achievements so far include creation of a research and research training enterprise that now involves more than 15 scientists, an analysis of the NWHI management planning process and recommendations, and a first-of-its-kind study of a Native Hawaiian community documenting the historical shift in diet that coincided with the decline of local fisheries. Two other projects are nearing completion: the first assessment of the condition of coral reefs in the Hawaiian Archipelago using an historical ecology approach; and, a meta-analysis of the connection between the health of reef ecosystems and that of indigenous Pacific Islander communities. The work is now largely supported by a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to support integrative research linking ecological and health sciences in the Hawaii-Pacific region.

More Information

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve

Dr. Bruce Wilcox's Faculty Page at The University of Hawaii

Kristin N. Duin, MS
Ms. Duin is the Associate Director of Sustainable Resources Group International, Inc., a Hawaii-based environmental consulting firm. She has ten years of experience as an environmental scientist with experience in natural and cultural resources management planning and policy; geographic information systems and their applications to resources management; environmental assessment; and community participation in environmental management. She has contributed both technical and managerial expertise to a range of projects in Hawaii and California involving ecosystem management, watershed assessment and restoration, wetland restoration planning, environmental analysis and impact mitigation for NEPA compliance, and community participatory approaches to resource management. Recently she played a key role in a project to assess the compatibility of commercial fishing with the proposed designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve as a National Marine Sanctuary. In addition to managing or serving as key staff on many of SRGII's projects, she also manages the company's administrative operations, and assists on marketing and business development. Ms. Duin has a BS from Stanford University (1994), and an MS from the University of California, Berkeley (2000).

Bruce A. Wilcox, PhD
Dr. Wilcox is professor of Tropical Medicine and Medical Microbiology, director of the Asia-Pacific Center for Disease Ecology, leader of the Ecology and Health Group, and faculty in the Graduate Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He is one of the founders of the field of conservation biology, conceiving the first text, "Conservation Biology: An Evolutionary-Ecological Perspective," and authoring a number of research publications and reports addressing environmental and natural resource management science, policy, and management over the past 25 years. His expertise includes ecosystem-based natural resource management planning and environmental assessment, and he has led several of the first such integrated planning and assessment efforts addressing natural and cultural resources for terrestrial and marine ecosystems in Hawaii. This included his recent oversight of an extensive review and assessment of the compatibility of commercial fishing with the proposed Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Dr. Wilcox teaches ecology and conservation in the UH graduate school and ecology of infectious diseases in graduate program in Tropical Medicine and Medical Microbiology in the School of Medicine. He is Editor-in-Chief of the international peer reviewed journal EcoHealth, and earned his BA and PhD from the University of California at San Diego (1980), and MS from Yale University (1975).
Dr. Wilcox's website

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