On a mission to save the reefs

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle and Malibu resident Daryl Hannah talk water shop after their dive to sign Reef Check's International Declaration for Reef Rights underwater, pledging to protect the ocean's reefs worldwide. The two will be honored for their environmental efforts Sept. 16 at a special dinner show in Malibu. Photo by Cliff Baldridge, Dir. Santa Barbara Arts TV Direct

The nonprofit foundation will have a dinner gala and show Sept. 16 in Malibu to raise awareness and funds to help protect the world’s reefs. A free festival at Bluffs Park takes place Sept. 22.

By Laura Tate / Editor

The Reef Check Foundation announced Tuesday that Tommy E. Remengesau, president of Palau, a cluster of islands in the North Pacific Ocean, southeast of the Philippines, signed the foundation’s International Declaration of Reef Rights. The declaration states in part that signers vow to protect reefs around the world from over-fishing, pollution and coral bleaching, as well as from damage caused by diving, boating and snorkeling, coral diseases and coastal development.

Why should the signing of a declaration to protect reefs around the world by a president of a small nation of islands that put together are only two and a half times the size of Washington DC (about 458 square kilometers) matter to Malibu residents?

Palau’s islands are “one of the most important reef countries,” said Gregor Hodgson, Ph.D., founder and executive director of Reef Check, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation of two ecosystems: tropical coral reefs and California rocky reefs. “It is in one of the most biodioverse regions of the world.”

And, as renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle, Ph.D., put it, “If the reefs are in trouble, so are we.”

That reefs can provide lifesaving compounds for medicines is one of the many reasons they need to be protected, Hodgson said.

The coral reef ecologist said the possibilities for pharmaceutical companies to use the unique compounds found in coral reef organisms are enormous.

“We are running out of antibiotics [that are effective,]” Hodgson said, citing the growing inefficacy of one of the more common antibiotics, penicillin.

Over the past 150 million years, marine organisms that thrive on the ocean’s reefs, have developed amazing compounds, he said. “One of the strongest anti-leukemia drugs is derived from a coral reef sponge.”

Drugs that are in trial 2 and 3 stage testing using compounds from reef organisms include antimicrobials and anticancer compounds.

Palau’s Remengesau has joined more than 5,000 people who have signed Reef Check’s declaration, including Earle, who is also an explorer-in-residence for National Geographic, and Malibu resident and actress Daryl Hannah, who both did an underwater signing in August to promote the importance of the oceans’ reefs.

“We would like to present the Declaration along with a list of one million names to all coral reef country governments in January 2009,” Hodgson said.

Reef Check will be encouraging the continued signing of the declaration and raising funds for its cause on Sept. 16 at its “Reef Rescue 2007: Dinner and Reef Inhabitants Show” at the Malibu West Beach Club. Earle and Hannah will be honored for their environmental efforts and the West Coast premiere of “Reef Inhabitants,” a dance, music and multimedia art film, will take place. Dinner will be catered by Executive Chef Kurt Ehrlich from Celebrity Gourmet Catering. There will also be silent and live auctions featuring a number of unique items, including resort stays and ocean-related items. Tickets are $250 for the gala; sponsorship tables are available.

The gala will be followed with the Reef Check Ocean Festival at Bluffs Parks on Sept. 22, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., prior to a screening of the animated film “Surf’s Up.” Nickelodeon’s Kyle Swann and singer Monet will make appearances at the free event, which will feature international entertainment. More information and tickets can be obtained by calling 310.230.2371 or online at www.reefcheck.org. The International Declaration of Reef Rights will be available for signing at both events.