SOS “International Clean Oceans Conference”

In 1992, at the Rio Conference on the Environment and Development, the United Nations declared the second Saturday in June of every year as International Oceans Day. Its objectives are to raise public awareness about the importance of the planet’s oceans in our lives: educate students, citizens and key decision makers about managing human activities related to the oceans, and how each person can make a difference; promote oceans “caretaker” activities, including projects, research and cultural and educational events; strengthen existing ocean networks, databases and information exchange; promote law and policy development through oceans education. SOS learned about the proclamation over the internet as a number of marine conservation organizations in Canada and Europe were setting up websites for the event. As far as SOS could determine, no organization in the United States recognized International Oceans Day. We asked Governor Cayetano and each of the mayors throughout Hawaii to issue written proclamations declaring June 8, 1995 (and in perpetuity) as Oceans Day throughout the State of Hawaii. They did, and we have these proclamations on display at our headquarters on Kauai.

We set about organizing the event and dedicated oceans Day 1995 to “Coral Reefs, the Rainforests of the Ocean.” Oceans Day commenced with Hawaiian chants and blessing by kumu hula, Pa’ula Chandler, Dr. James Maragos of the UH East West Center and one of the leading coral reef authorities in the world, headlined the event, conducted coral reef talks and walks, and planted the seed for the SOS Coral Reef Monitoring Project. Children were encouraged to participate and were given coral reef coloring books.

Oceans Day 2003 included the first successful trip of Ocean Pulse At Sea on June 8, 2003 to Nualolo Kai. Students from Waipa journeyed on the Tropic Bird to Nualolo Kai, where they mapped the reef and met with the Na Pali Coast Ohana and archaeologists to help cleanup and learn about the ancient fishing village. The students compared their finding at Nualolo Kai to the data they collected at Waicoco Reef in Hanalei Bay, and found some interesting results.

SOS “International Clean Oceans Conference”  The Mission of the SOS International Clean Oceans Conference is to create a model educational forum for the open exchange of ideas, to promote conservation of our oceans through community and corporate partnership, and to increase awareness through active participation in preserving our world’s greatest natural resource ­our oceans.


Email For information about past events


Clean Oceans Conference ’98,

Clean Oceans Conference ’97,

Clean Oceans Conference ’96,

1st “Oceans Days” June 10, 1995

1997, the first International Year of the Reef, was an awareness building year.  The 2007 Clean Oceans Conference supports The International Coral Reef Initiative with their choice of 2008 as the International Year of the Reef.

June 8th is SOS Hawaii Oceans Day in perpetuity proclaimed by Governor Ben Cayetano, as well as International World Oceans Day.  Past SOS Clean Oceans Conferences have received letters of support from President Bill Clinton, Governor Cayetano, Hawai’i state Representatives, Senators, Congress, and all the county mayors who are all again invited to participate this year!

2007 marked the 10th anniversary of the first ever Reef Check in the world performed by Reef Check, SOS and hundreds of volunteers!. Reef Check is a volunteer, ocean conservation organization designed to save coral reefs globally and temperate reefs in California. Reef Check is active in over 82 countries and territories throughout the world.

The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force voted to begin the planning process for an International Year of the Reef in 2008. The task force called on researchers and coral reef managers to use the year to increase global awareness of the economic, ecological and cultural value of coral reefs and to improve commitments to protect and sustain these threatened and valuable ecosystems. The action followed approval last week by over 45 nations and organizations of the International Coral Reef Initiative to support the idea, roughly 10 years after the first International Year of the Reef in 1997.

The 2007 SOS 4th International Clean Oceans Conference

& The 10th Anniversary of the first Reef Check in the world (1997 Conference)  June 9th and 10th, 2007 at the Princeville Resort, Kaua’i, Hawai’i

ALSO:  SOS Hawai’i Oceans Day proclaimed by Governor Ben Cayetano

Theme: “Commitment to Action and Positive Change”

Highlighting Successful Marine Conservation Projects Worldwide & Proactive Solutions from top experts.

A gathering time for non-profit, business, state and federal organizations to organize a Kaua’i ocean information center that increases sustainable island values.

Kaua’i Hears “A Call to Action” at the 2007 International Clean Oceans Conference

By Christina Comfort

“Every breath we take, every drop of water we consume, we’re connected to the ocean… [We’re] dependant on the ocean for our survival… This is a new concept that is finally getting to penetrate our terrestrial brains… We’re taking the plunge.”  – Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

Taking the Plunge

Currently a National Geographic Explorer in Residence, Dr. Sylvia Earle is one of the heroes of marine conservation. As a keynote speaker at this conference, she emphasized the importance of the ocean in global terms: it is responsible for the weather patterns we

see, the earth’s climate, and holds most of the diversity of life on earth. The ocean is the major life force of the planet – the heart of this whole interconnected web – and how much of your heart would you want to live without?

With this perspective, it is easy to see why the degradation of coral reefs is such an urgent problem. Even more so than pollution and sedimentation, overfishing is the most damaging anthropogenic threat to the marine world. About 90% of the populations of shark, tuna, and other apex predators have been eliminated by overexploitation. And it’s not just the profitable species that are affected by the high fishing effort: marine mammals, seabirds, non-commercially valuable fish, benthic ecosystems, and species that have yet to be described are killed in huge numbers through bycatch and destructive fishing methods.

Since the money drives the massacre, it’s up to the community to enjoy seafood responsibly. Know where the fish came from, and avoid fish that are overexploited or fished using destructive methods such as trawling, dredging, or long-lining to eliminate the demand for these at-risk species.

Dr. Earle also emphasized the importance of marine protected areas, pointing out that less than 1% of the oceans are currently protected, with most of the effort concentrated in the northwest Hawaiian Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. Kauai doesn’t have a marine protected area yet, but concern and willpower are present in the community. The establishment of a managed area in coordination with the local community would help bring back fish populations, revitalize the ecosystem, and preserve the reef for future generations.

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Reef Check: Successes and Challenges

The first Reef Check was held in Hanalei Bay ten years ago in June of 1997, and on Sunday June 10th Reef Check revisited Hanalei Bay for a ten-year anniversary survey. Dr. Gregor Hodgson, founder of Reef Check International, explained that Reef Check works by using about 30 indicator species – some worldwide and some local – that are useful to quickly surmise the health of a reef. For example, the presence of large fish and lobsters on a transect line survey is an indicator of a more healthy ecosystem. Many governments have attempted to monitor their reefs using very detailed, in-depth methods and they have failed, so why not use the simpler, standardized and effective Reef Check protocol?

1997 was also the first International Year of the Reef, which marked a breakthrough for coral reef attention in the media. Prior to the establishment of Reef Check, most scientists agreed that pollution and sedimentation were the greatest threats to the marine environment; after Reef Check data was analyzed, it became clear that overexploitation of fish stocks is actually a much more pressing problem. This is one issue that will hopefully be addressed more efficiently as we approach the 2nd International Year of the Reef in 2008.

Reef Check has expanded greatly since the first global survey, from 315 sites in 31 countries to a current wingspan of 800 sites in over 80 countries. However, the number of surveys per year is low – probably too low for really valid statistical data. As an organization that depends on volunteers, Reef Check hopes to increase survey numbers by tapping into community enthusiasm and introducing Reef Check methods to students. Reef Check also hopes to continue the trend of increasing media coverage for reef issues, which has improved greatly starting in 1997 and has greatly benefited conservation efforts.

Image Credits:

Coral Bleaching, Then and Now

Dr. Lucia Gutierrez of Reef Check Guatemala compared the 2005 Caribbean bleaching event to the global bleaching event of 1997-1998. While the event in 1997-1998 caused mass coral mortality in Indonesia, Australia, and Belize, the 2005 bleaching was restricted in impact to the Caribbean. Overall, reefs fared better in 2005. During the 1997-98 bleaching, areas of Indonesia had up to 100% bleaching and coral mortality, while some areas of Belize were impacted by 70% bleaching. In 2005, however, only 33% of the coral in the Caribbean were affected, and there was only a 12% mortality rate after the event. A few months later, the reefs had recovered significantly. These bleaching events raise several questions concerning the ecology of coral reefs. Are some corals more susceptible to bleaching than others? And what are the long-term ecological impacts of these events?

Hawaii’s Unique Threat: Invasive Species

David Raney is the head of Reef Check Hawaii. Their mission? Mai ke kai mai ke ola, E malama i ke ka. From the ocean comes life; Protect the ocean. Raney emphasized that scientific monitoring of the reef is necessary but not sufficient for protection. He pointed out the threat of alien species, which is especially a concern for Hawaii’s marine life since so many of our species are found nowhere else in the world. Scientific surveys should include a check for invasive algae in addition to surveying coral cover and animal life. In terms of fishery management, Raney advocated a return to holistic community-based management practices.

A Tsunami’s effects on Coral Reefs

Cori Kane, also of Reef Check International, spoke about the recent tsunami’s effects on reefs in Aceh, Indonesia. The earthquake that caused the tsunami ran for 1300km and produced a fault 150km wide. Half a million cubic kilometers of water were initially moved by this quake, heralding a humanitarian crisis when this mass of water reached the shore. Surprisingly, the coral reefs fared well.

The greatest coral damage appeared at sites of “island tipping,” where the force of the moving water lifted shallow reef flats out into open air, causing 100% coral mortality. Also, the earthquake caused some damage by overturning corals in the immediate vicinity. However, Reef Check surveys showed that long-term damage was minimal, with an average of  40% live coral (compared to a global average of 35% live coral). Even compared to this tsunami, which is an extreme example of the power that nature possesses, overexploitation and destructive fishing still pose the largest threat to Indonesian reefs.

The Importance of Hawaiian Reefs

Heading off the second session which focused on our Hawaiian Reef Environment, Dr. John Mitchell of the Hawaii Dept. of Natural Resources summarized the importance of our reefs and also the most pressing threats that they face. The reef is the habitat of a diverse group of organisms, from bacteria to large apex predators like sharks. This complex ecosystem is crucial to Hawaiian culture and to families that depend on the reef for food. The reef is also a driving factor in ecotourism, a major economic strength for Hawaii. However, like reefs worldwide, Hawaii’s reefs face threats from pollution, sedimentation, overuse and exploitation, physical damages, and invasive species.

Traditional Reef Management

Dr. Carlos Andrade of UH at Manoa provided a cultural perspective to the day’s proceedings. Using traditional ahupua’a management as an example, he encouraged us to look at the world we live in as part of our family, rather than something that we control or possess. Dr. Andrade used the example of the sea turtle to show the contrast between sustainable and unsustainable practice: Native populations ate sea turtle once or twice a year, but when it hit restaurant menus, twice a year turned into every day, pushing the species into endangerment. However, sustainable management by periodically closing fisheries and prohibiting take of some species will help to insure that the fishery is still available to future generations.

From the Rivers to the Sea

Sedimentation and pollution are common problems on the inshore reefs of the world. Dr. Carl Berg’s talk focused on Hawaii, which is very susceptible to these issues since nearly all the reefs are close to shore. Pollutants from field runoff, leaking septic systems, dirty roads, and storm drains quickly find their way to the ocean, whether through rivers or groundwater seeps. What can the community do to help with pollution and sedimentation issues? Be informed and aware! Pick up after your dogs and participate in trail restoration projects. If you have a farm, be aware of the effects of herbicides and pesticides and leave a 5-15ft “buffer zone” of natural vegetation on the border of a road or stream. Also, upgraded and well-maintained septic systems can help to prevent groundwater seepage problems.

The Water is Rising

Everyone has heard about global warming and the ensuing climate change and sea level rise that would accompany a mass melting event. Dr. Chip Fletcher focused on how the sea level rise would affect Hawaii specifically, especially since new research from 2007 shows that the rate of ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica is accelerating at an alarming rate. The seas are likely to rise about one meter in the next century, which would put large areas of many coastal Hawaiian communities under a few feet of water. Beaches would all but disappear as the islands’ coastlines shrink. Dr. Fletcher remarked that the people most affected by this are not the tourists or the tourism industry, but the local residents who actually use the beaches daily. He emphasized that the construction of seawalls is NOT the answer to protect near-shore communities, since the groundwater level will rise in conjunction with the seas, causing flooding from below. Also, seawalls prevent the natural formation of new beaches.


Sustainability in Kauai is a popular topic of discussion for many activist organizations, but Keone Kealoha reminded us all that the most important step of activism is the actual act.  For positive change to happen, we need to commit to the proposed plan and follow it through to completion. We have many activist groups in Kauai, and we can see them all coming together at eco-roundtable meetings. Since we have this motivated group of organizations, the best way to take real steps towards sustainability is to network within the various organizations and collaborate towards larger common goals. We need to work together rather than create small task forces to create louder and stronger actions towards sustainability.

Success in the NWHI – Dr. Randall Kosaki

A wonderful marine conservation success story is our very own Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Marine Monument. This is the largest marine sanctuary in the world, just ahead of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia. There is a significant difference in the distribution of species in the NWHI versus the main Hawaiian Islands which is directly due to the difference in fishing pressure. The biomass of apex predators, which are a key part of the reef ecosystem, is much higher in the NWHI – 58% as opposed to just 3% on the main Hawaiian Islands. Overwhelming public support fueled the creation of this precious area, teeming with endemic Hawaiian species. While fishing is being gradually phased out, the area still isn’t free from the threats of marine debris, abandoned fishing gear, and illegal activities.

Too Many Tanks – Not Enough Fish

With fishing and water quality being the focal points in reef management efforts, aquarium collecting might sound like an insignificant activity. Then again, where are all the yellow tangs? Robert Wintner of Snorkel Bob Foundation exposed the impact of the aquarium trade on the reef ecosystem. Since collecting is legal and largely unregulated, it actually has severe impacts on the ecosystem. The yellow tang is the most popular aquarium export from Hawaii, making up 60% of the trade, so they are harvested relentlessly. Their absence alters the dynamics of reef grazing. Also, while yellow tangs on the reef may live to 45 years, they survive only about two years in average aquarium systems – meaning that the demand for yellow tang is unsustainable and puts the species at high risk. The wild-caught aquarium trade brings about $20 million to Hawaii’s economy each year, but tourism produces $1billion! It’s easy to see that a healthy reef is more valuable than a fish in a tank. It is time to manage the aquarium trade sustainably!

Save Our Seas: Education and Outreach

One of the most important things we can do for our ocean environment is to educate and instill a passion for the seas in the next generation. Captain Paul Clark, president of Save Our Seas, advocated the use of classroom and field education to encourage scientific literacy and environmental concern, specifically in regard to our marine resources. Ocean Pulse is a drug-free program in which kids learn how to take coral, invertebrate, and fish surveys on a transect line, and simultaneously generate useful scientific data. This type of hands-on activity keeps kids open to lessons about sustainability and responsible stewardship. Clark also described plans for a Marine Education Center here on Kauai. This center would raise awareness in the community and tourism sector alike, help educate the youth, generate research about the health of the reefs and fishery management, and contribute to sustainability efforts on Kauai.

The Government and Reef Conservation

Dr. Katherine Chaston of UH discussed one way in which the US government has responded to the coral reef crisis – with the creation of the US Coral Reef Task Force in 1992. The task force works to develop local action strategies based around three-year plans. In Hawaii, they hope to contribute to marine conservation through implementing holistic land-based management practices at the watershed or ahupua’a level. In Kauai, they are currently monitoring the Hanalei Bay watershed, along with two other sites on Maui and Molokai. The task force hopes to reduce anthropogenic load to the reef by 25% in the near future, while also increasing awareness through the distribution of volunteer instruction pamphlets for reef and watershed care and monitoring.

International Declaration of Reef Rights

The event concluded with a reminder that the second international year of the reef is 2008 – coming up quickly! Dr. Gregor Hodgson read the International Declaration of Reef Rights, a global petition for reef protection and activism. The petition declares that all reefs have the right to be free from overfishing and destructive fishing, direct human and boater impacts, pollution, acidification, damage due to poorly managed coastal communities, and coral disease. To read the whole declaration and add your name to the petition, visit The oceans need YOU!

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