OIST Hosts International Coral Reef Meeting

Hinako Takahashi, Parliamentary Vice-Minister of the Environment, visited OIST to open the meeting of the International Coral Reef Initiative.

On October 20, Hinako Takahashi, Parliamentary Vice-Minister of the Environment visited the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University to open the 29th general meeting of the International Coral Reef Initiative, or ICRI. The annual meeting brings ICRI members together to discuss the efforts of communities and local organizations striving to protect coral reef ecosystems worldwide. This includes protecting corals as well as any and all marine species that live on the reef.

The meeting helps many leaders of NGOs compare projects and methods for motivating the community. Dajiro Kamiya, from the Okinawa Prefectural Government, explained that they sponsor educational programs, volunteer garbage collection, and land-based measures to prevent red-clay runoff from local agriculture. Kamiya pointed out that since 1974, divers have removed 7.6 million crown of thorns starfish from Okinawan reefs, which has helped coral populations rebound significantly.

Because most of the participating organizations work with limited funding, rallying community involvement is crucial. One popular method to protect marine ecosystems is the no-take zone, where fishing in that area is forbidden. Yet if there’s no funding to police the area, “Any no-take efforts that take place have to be self-enforced,” explained Ruben Torres, who manages La Caleta Marine Reserve in the Dominican Republic. Torres started an additional campaign to increase consumption of the invasive lionfish. Now, he says that local restaurants serve lionfish for dinner, and grocery stores offer recipes so that people can prepare the fish at home. Meeting participants left with new ideas to increase conservation efforts in their local communities.

After opening the meeting, Takahashi toured OIST and expressed her enthusiasm for the university’s sustainable architecture. “I am very impressed that OIST campus is not just built beautifully but also built upon careful consideration to preserve the natural environment,” she said. Before leaving, she shook hands with Dr. Baughman, OIST Executive Vice President for Sustainable Development of Okinawa.  She then mentioned that she had heard OIST complimented in the past. “My predecessor told me never to miss visiting OIST because it is really an amazing place,” Takahashi said. “Now I see and know by myself how wonderful it is.  Thank you for offering us a warm welcome.”


by Poncie Rutsch

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