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A c *tf-a-kind program brings hobbyists, scientists and educators together to breed marine invertebrates and to take action against coral decline, By Brian J, Rank is

Project DIBS is one of the mapr projects being organized by the DIBS Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated tajlising Mhfe awareness of the current state of coral reefs, their continuing decline, the principles of ocean literacy and bU^ing connections with the general public to help them understand how to reduce their impact to oceanic habitat. From the get-go, Project DIBS (Desirable Invertebrates Breeding Society) was designed to function as a community to educate marine aquarium hobbyists on these issues and what can be done about them.

Environmental Literacy

^^jflUgJcoral reef decline has been in the hobbyist literature for at least a decade and in the scientific literature dating back several decades, the level of awareness and action thes! issue^y aquarium hobbyists varies greatly. Many eginning hobbyists have little to no awareness of these issues. This is not surprising as environmental literacy, especially in the United States, is very low,™ith most estimates stating that less than 10 percent of Americans are environmentally literate. The high turnover rate of hobbyists makes this issue even more difficult to address within this community. By foimiS||||^^mal community dedicated to these conservation topics, a culture can be developed

Looking for the next big DIBS breeding challenge? You might consider trying to captive breed red (left) or green Mithrax crabs (top). Project DIBS is currently researching the viability of working with the green crabs. The green emerald crabs (M. sculptus) are known for their fondness for eating bubble algae and have been bred in university laboratories. The red crabs (M. forceps) are purported to be easier to work with in captive conditions. If interested in working with either crab, contact Project DIBS today.

itnu in iiobsn is that retains the knowledge of everyone involved, even when people leave for other pursuits.

My Little Blue Buddy WF

It was 1986 in Culver, Indiana, and my first day of ninth-grade biology. I reluctantly walked into my biology classRoom wishing my summer vacation had never ended. I remember thinking: "Why are my summer breaks so short?" Little did I know that my love for science and the ocean was about to begin, amid the golden cornfields of Indiana.

I spotted a neon-blue fish swimming in an aquarium and was immediately fascinated. I forgot about not wanting to be in school, and my astute biology teacher began educating me about the fish. I vaguely remember hearing the words "damsel" and "Fiji" while staring at my new piscine friend. Unfortunately, my little blue buddy didn't live very long, nor did any of its replacements. But suddenly sports were out and science and the ocean were my new passions.

Coral Reef Decline

A lot has changed in the 21 years since; aquarium husbandry of appropriate animals has vastly improved, and blue damsels are now easy to keep. But two things haven't changed: my passion for science and coral reef decline.

What I didn't know in 1986 was that three years before I met my little blue buddy, a strange disease had just finished almost totally decimating populations of the last major herbivore in the Caribbean Basin, the long-spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum). Since then, Caribbean coral reefs have declined from around 50 percent coral coverage to less than 10 percent, as coral reefs are transforming into algae-covered reefs. The collapse of Caribbean coral reefs is now a case study in marine science classrooms that demonstrates the loss of key animals can cause a major shift in an ecosystem.

Pacific coral reefs are in better shape, but they are also declining in the face of global climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and loss of top predators and herbivores. Major losses of coral reefs have been occurring in the Pacific for decades.

The Galápagos Islands, a remote World Heritage Site, once home to healthy coral reefs, has lost around 99 percent of its coral to several severe bleaching events. The Great Barrier Reef, despite being one of the best-protected and largest coral reefs in the Pacific, is suffering from bleaching, disease, pollution and crown-of-thorns sea star outbreaks.

Early reports for 2007 are showing major bleaching events again in Japan and the Philippines. Around the world, 20 percent of coral reefs have been destroyed, with another 50 percent damaged or declining rapidly. Almost all reports of this loss show the decline worsening with little chance of a reversal for decades, and some reports have dire predictions of the loss of virtually all coral reefs in 30 to 100 years.


I've been in the sa^ater aquarium hobby for about six years, but I took a break from the hobby when I moved to Texas. As I prepared to get back into the hobby, I became aware of this alarming Mflmation. I consider myself an environmentally individual and love to research topics, yet it took three years of being in the hobby before I became aware of the severity of the dangers facing coral reefs. I stared at my tank and pondered how this could happen. How could I have missed the obvious dangers facing coral reefs?

MovinglUlAcliicn _

^ During the last three years I have investigated this question, and while the answer isn't complete, two major parts of the answer are a general lack of awareness of the problem and a functional inability of the hobbyist community to take collective action.

As I spent many sleepless nights reading peer-reviewed journals, educational research, hobbyist discussion forums and magazines, I started to notice some trends emerging. There are many excellent online communities and print magazines for just about any topic needed for marine aquariums. Several of these resources even have some

While breeding invertebrates is fairly simple on paper, the practical difficulty ranges from easy to currently not possible. We use a breeder-registration process to determine each breeder's setup and interests. To help breeders choose their first project, all invertebrates have been labeled either "easy" or "difficult." Easy invertebrates are those that can be successfully bred in display tanks with minimal effort. Difficult invertebrates are those that require special procedures, equipment and/or care.

Both easy and difficult invertebrates offer different advantages to the project. Easy invertebrates allow for initial success and quick reduction of the need for wild collection. We feel this is where many hobbyists will choose to participate, at least initially, as raising difficult invertebrates takes significantly more time than most hobbyists can dedicate to a project.

Hobbyists working on a difficulynvertebrate have the potential to be one of the first people in the hobby to successfully raise a species in captivity. Raising a difficult species is — well — difficult, though you might call it a challenge. Many hobbyists are driven by challenges, but they are frequently isolated challenges that can be difficult to achieve alone and have limited lasting impact. To properly harness this strong drive by hobbyists, we have created "breeder challenges" where breeders work together on raising a difficult species with the goal of establishing a breeding population of an important species in captivity. Each breeder can contribute their unique skills to the group effort on the challenge, thus reducing the total workload for each breeder involved.

forums, pages or threads dedicated to responsible reefkeep-ing or similarly themed topics.

However, I did not find a resource designed from the beginning as a community focused on educational efforts that combined breeding marine invertebrates, scientific research and educational outreach. I quickly found people with a desire for such a community. With a core group of volunteers, we began to build the Project DIBS community. In less than two years, the community has attracted more than 500 members with key members from many dif-

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