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Old 07/24/2008, 09:27 AM   #1
Walt Smith
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Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: Fiji / Tonga / Los Angeles
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Tonga Ban

Hi All,
Since I was asked to weigh in on this issue and possibly shine some light on the facts I am happy to oblige.
It is true; the rock ban goes into effect on August 4th. Our only hope at this point is a proposal I have sent to Fisheries that outlines a more feasible phase out period.
In a letter sent to all the shippers (informing them of the ban) they were of the view that cultured rock could easily replace the harvest because the “technology already exist”. What they did not take into account was the fact that cultured rock must first be made and then put into the ocean for about 18 months before it is any good. Buying all of the raw materials such as cement, pumice, sand, iron oxide and a cement mixer plus all the labor is very expensive over the course of 18 months with no income to support this activity.
I have suggested a two year phase out period with the operator showing proof of aquaculture involvement and investment by January 09. If any one operator does not show proof then no further export permits will be issued to that operator.
I feel very used in this scenario because at the end of last year I was asked by fisheries to come over and give a presentation to them on how I grow corals and make live rock in Fiji. They asked many questions after my presentation and I felt encouraged that the bill to allow aquaculture would finally be passed because at that point it was not yet legal.
Well, to make a long story short, they used that presentation against the industry stating that “the technology already exist” and went on to impose the ban as soon as aquaculture was made legal. What I mean by legal is that there was no format, rules or protocol in the fisheries guidelines that had been passed by cabinet at that point so it was not allowed.
The result is no more live rock and 50% reduction on the coral quota.
I was also called into the National Economic Development Council last April to give a presentation to cabinet members on the sustainability of our export. Once they were satisfied with my report they ordered fisheries to carry out a resource assessment and environmental impact study BEFORE any bans were put in place. Fisheries ignored this demand (which is highly unusual) and did what they wanted anyway. They said that they already had the proof they needed. …… this is where your stories originate from.
A long, long time ago in a far away land named Tonga there was a fish and coral exporter and life was good. Soon there came other exporters and life got a little more complicated. Some exporters were good and some only interested in cashing in on some mystical good life. Ok back to reality!
There soon were 5 exporters with three fairly stable operations and experienced personnel. One of the other operators had plenty of trouble staying alive and the business changed hands several times with each change more and more desperate and unsustainable acts took place. The fifth company arrived made a big splash with lots of divers, big boats and illegal immigrants (over the amount allowed) and broke all sorts of rules getting some negative attention from fisheries.
Fisheries then gave permission for one of these two operators to set up a coral farm right under their noses at the fisheries facility. This “farm” was established by bringing in some “expert” from a fish store in the states and really making a mess. Just a bunch of broken off pieces of coral scattered around in the tanks so that they could be exempt from the coral quota the rest of us had to adhere to. After about a year they realized that they had a mountain of dead coral right outside their back door and started to take pictures of the damage. To make matters worse, this inexperienced “expert” went on the web (I think here) and started showing off horrifying pictures of himself walking all over the reef and holding up massive pieces of coral. This really concerned me as he was bringing all the wrong sort attention to our industry and a very uninformed, unsustainable practice was carried out right under their nose.
This is when they brought me in to demonstrate what a real coral farm should look like. I remember them asking me questions about the “farm” at their facility as if they doubted the validity of those efforts as only a ploy to evade quota restrictions. Since I did set them straight with my presentation and movie it is a shame they used this as an excuse to shut a totally viable and sustainable industry down.
About the insensitive comments regarding the workers this will present a huge problem to the economy. Since they burned the town down in 19 months ago unemployment is out of control … there simply are no jobs to be had. The Tongan government will not realize about 8 million in export trade, the countries second largest export and Air New Zealand is threatening to pull the direct flight making it very difficult to travel to and from Tonga. Once the direct flight is gone it will also be very difficult to ship whatever coral and fish we are allowed. I suspect most (if not all) exporters will simply close up shop leaving a large hole in the already fragile economy.
To answer more direct questions; our company has never been thrown out of any meeting, we only practice the most sustainable and proven methods for harvest and we continue to set the best practice examples for our industry. It is a shame that the good guys will suffer for the acts of a careless few.
Sorry for the long post but you asked for it. We are praying for a reinstatement of the policy and at least order the study and impose a reasonable phase out before August 4th or it will be too late then to do much about it.
Walt


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Old 07/24/2008, 08:12 PM   #2
onebadman
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If the Tongan govt cares so little for its citizens that it's willing to risk one of its major sources of income we should oblige them.By boycotting all Tongan livestock a clear message can be sent showing what side their bread is buttered on.While I realize the negative effects this will have on ordinary Tongans, it's not our job to look after the best interests of the citizens of Tonga.That's what they have a king for!If the govt can't meet the needs of its citizens the people have an obligation to themselves to remove it and install one that does meet their needs.


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Old 07/24/2008, 08:36 PM   #3
chrissreef
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Thanks for the info Walt - it helps with rumors. (remember that old childhood game of telephone? after the 3rd person the message is essentually garbage - even emails without background info)

I am curious on the "sustainable" collection you mentioned a few times. This has been touted for years. I no doubt believe it's doable under certain conditions and with the right people/government... but as a consumer, the general word of "sustainable" can mean a lot of things. If you have time, can you explain what that means? (as I've only heard via word of mouth)

collection area? moving collection area? type or size of animal collected? number collected? farms? education? all of the above? etc.

I'm sure your presentation laid this out clearly - you don't owe us an answer either, it's just something I've always wondered.

as a side note - I think most hobbyists would love to support sustainable collectors more than others. It's nearly impossible to identify where/how/who corals or fish came from. ORA clowns/corals and mariculture/aquaculture identification has helped... but other than that, we're outta luck. I think it's MAC (marine aq. council) that's also not widely known or around the US. I think it says something when walking into a store you see some of their products marked MAC certified, ORA etc.

Anyway... =)


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Old 07/25/2008, 02:20 PM   #4
Baliboy
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Hello everyone. My name is Eddie Hanson and I'm an Indonesian coral exporter working out of Bali. Some of you may remember me back in the days when I used to have a reef shop called Tropical Paradise in the SF area. About 4 years ago, I had an opportunity to go to the Kingdom of Tonga to run a collection/export station.

One of the main problems that I saw right away was that the divers were never trained on the corals. They simply went out and collected what ever was around. On my first collecting trip, I threw back 90% of the corals. For sure most these corals would have ended up at some wholesaler or retailer unable to sell and eventually die. The guys were collecting corals that were not suitable for the aquarium trade. Of course these were experienced coral divers that had worked for other exporters before. The lead diver even worked for Walt Smith in Fiji. But in a matter of months, with me going out with them everyday for training, they started to catch on what is good and what is bad. So instead of taking 90% of corals around them that was not suitable, we were only taking 20%. More work but we were actually "less destructing the reef". I spent a lot of time with the divers and they all had nothing good to say about their former boss, Walt Smith. They used to tell me how they used to go to one area and wipe out all of the one species. I asked about some of the Indonesian corals, they said that Tonga used to have, but Walt took it all and there is no more. Walt Smith was one of the first exporter and collector, so there were really no regulations, so he simply did what he wanted. This is all coming from the divers, not other exporters or customers or anyone.

After I felt the divers can go collect on their own, it was time to work on fish. We had 5 divers total. We brought in 3 legal Filipino divers to train and work together with our Tongan divers on how to catch fish using nets. The trick was to teach our local divers, because eventually the Filipinos would go home after their contract. I took two of the more veterans of our diver crew and teamed them up with the Filipinos. At this time I teamed up with my friend who has a huge wholesale operation in northern California to bring in famous Steve Robinson to train our Filipino and Tonga divers how to catch fish without destructing the reefs. Robert (owner of Aquatic Specialties and Pets) and I wanted to make sure that any bad habits the Filipinos had, wasn't going to
be used in catching ornamental fish in Tonga. Steve is the expert in this field. Years ago, he was taught by Australians using nets and took his knowledge to PI. It was all cyanide back in those days and thanks to him, much of the fish collection is now net caught. Heck even my Filipino divers heard of Steve Robinson, just by reputation.

While this was going on, I also started an aquaculture project. Actually other companies were already doing it, just not so successful. We needed a place and ended up renting space from the Fisheries Clam Farm. Years ago, the Japanese had given this clam farm as a gift to Tonga. They trained the locals but after the Japanese left, things fell apart. The farm is a state of the art facility and had huge amount of potential. We dumped money and man power and cleaned up the place. We had a deal with the fisheries. We would pay rent and maintain the facility, although only half of the tanks were ours, and all the clams spawned we were going to share. So the fisheries loved me from the start. They had all to gain and nothing to loose. Daniel Knop even came out to consult. He went out with my divers and took a photo of the rare Tevora clam, which he really wanted for his next clam book. No one had an updated picture. He was very happy. I also had Anthony Calfo come out to help me with the aquaculture. I can grow corals in captive tanks but can I do it in the field? If I'm not sure, I get people that know to help me. The process was simple. We would get pieces from wild colonies and make broodstock. After these grow out, we would cut pieces and mount them on cement disks and grow these out for sale. But finding a place to grow the corals was more tricky than I thought. The first place was too shallow, the second place had too much sediment, the third place had too much algea and huge starfish that would eat the corals! Then finally I found a place where we could leave the corals alone for months at a time and grow nicely. I brought some samples to Macna at that time to see what kind of response I would get. People loved it. I even brought out my Tongan partner to the show so he can see what was happening on the otherside. The organizers were delighted that an exporter from overseas had come to the show. After the positive response of the aquaculture, we went back to Tonga to start production. We got permission from the fisheries to grow our corals in the certain area. No one was allowed to go there, but us. I had big plans to repopulate areas of damage left by Walt Smith.

Unfortunately, this is where I got screwed out of my Tonga operation and left. That was nearly around 3 years ago.

I'm now in Indonesia and have been here a year exporting super high quality corals. Actually my concept of aquaculture is even better than the concept that was developed here years ago. The "farmers" have to maintain and constantly clean the racks because of algea problems. My corals in Tonga needed no maintenance! I don't have an aquaculture license yet so I can't implement any of my ideas but once I do get it - watch out! I have a special project that will rock the industry!

So now I'm minding my own business in Indo, getting ready to leave for Vietnam in a day, and my friend Robert sends me a link to this thread. He says"you got to hear this crap!"

So here I am posting, and I haven't posted since the TP days when I used to sponsor.

So Mr. Smith,

What have I done to offend you so wrongly? I haven't been in Tonga for three years. I don't know what is going on? All I know, is that my aquaculture project went down the tubes and my partner no longer rents the fisheries clam farm. Everything is back to "normal".

I don't even know you. The only time we ever spoke was when you called me up from LA and asked me to sell fish to you exclusively. I brought in professional divers so we can export fish overseas, not to supply to my competitor. Where did you get the galls to ask me not to sell to anyone in LA? You should've just been glad that I was selling you corals and some leftover fish because your operation was dead at the time. All you were really sending was liverock. Actually we hardly ever sold rock. It was a loosing deal for us and we would only collect a few pieces when my customers requested it.

You neglected Tonga and focused all of your attention on Fiji. Heck you even lied to my friend a long time ago when we went to visit you at Pacific Aquafarms. There was this beautiful new rock that was displayed in one of your tanks. You called it Kaelini from Fiji! You never gave credit in the beginning for Tonga. So then I show up and start doing something good for everyone (we had at one point 28 employees. When I first got there, there were less than ten with part time divers), and you get upset 4 years later!

Now that you are loosing liverock quota, somehow it is my fault? How dare you bring me up in your problems! Where were you when I used to entertain all guests that used to come to the clam farm? The fisheries were proud that their clam farm was up an running. It used to be one of the "monkeys" on their backs. The government used to get on fisheries case about the condition of the farm. Now that I showed up, everyone was sending any people of importance my way. They were actually now proud. I used to have many meetings with my partner and the minister of the fisheries to talk about the future of the coral trade. I can tell you that there were very little guidelines even just a few years ago. Where were you?

Fellow reefers, for hobbyists Walt Smith is a hero. Because you guys don't know what goes on behind the scenes. I used to think he was the god of corals and had huge respect for him. Then I got into the business and found out the truth. I have heard the term "crowbar Walt" too many times on the field.

And oh by the way Walt, if you are such an expert on aquaculture, and I'm such an idiot, why was I asked to come to PNG to consult in an aquaculture project and not you?

Cheers Walt, we can talk man to man when we meet.

For everyone, I'm sorry for the extra long post. I apologize as I didn't plan on my first post on RC being so negative.

Cheers,
Eddie


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Old 07/25/2008, 04:35 PM   #5
chrissreef
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Posts: 1,266
Eddie;
Thanks for your input and it's great to get another perspective.

I've been in the hobby for quite a few years, some of the time working at lfs's and speaking with wholesalers, exporters etc.

I've come to the conclusion the hobby is very "dark" and political behind the scenes. Everyone knows everyone and everyone has backstabbed one another at one point... intentionally sometimes, and sometimes not.

The "crappy" part I think is it's all driven by $$ and affects living animals and natural environments. This sometimes makes ethics, honesty, respect or cooperation go out the window and I think ultimately will shut the import business down and leave us all with fragging corals in the states.

edit: something I've always found interesting in this and other industries... is how it's permitable to import products that were made in ways that would be compleeetly illegal in the US. This not only makes it difficult for the US workforce to compete internationally, but is kind of unethical in my opinion. It's like saying "my children can't drink at my house, but it's ok for them to drink at your house" - just doesn't make sense to me.


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One's standard of living is determined by the size of their reef
Learn and you continue to adapt, stop learning and you become obsolete
We live with each other, not for ourselves, protect our planet

Current Tank Info: 300g Starfire/Starboard A.G.E. mixed reef

Last edited by chrissreef; 07/25/2008 at 05:09 PM.
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Old 07/26/2008, 12:08 AM   #6
Baliboy
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Hi chrissreef,

Yes, behind the scenes of the aquarium industry is really dark and ugly. A wise, Anthony Calfo, once told me that he wasn't sure if I was cut out for the behind the scenes business. He felt I was too nice and would get eaten alive! Well, he was right, I had no idea how malicious people actually were in this business. It is all driven by money and ego. For me, it is all about passion. Of course I would like to make money too so I can have a decent life.

I've been screwed many times, but I still persevere and move on. The people that know me knows the exact story. I never look back and learn from my mistakes.

I can tell you what I think of the term "sustainability". Besides of course aquaculture or mariculture, this is what I envision. Let's say we harvest 1-5% of the corals from a reef section. It won't take more than 6 months for the reef to recover. Just got to make sure that we rotate and harvest in a timely manner. Another example would be if we encounter a patch of anemones that is hosting nemo clownfish. We can take one anemone out of ten. Catch all but 2-5 of the clownfish per anemone. There are always large numbers of these clowns hosting in the anemone. The trick is to give time for the anemones and clownfish to recover. Then we can harvest again.

I really can't think of ways to harvest liverock sustainably. Unless a huge natural disaster comes and kills off parts of the reef, becoming a dead zone. In Tonga, liverock is collected in a zone where there is no life. The reef zone is really weird, there would be sections teaming with life and then all of sudden, nothing but dead rocks(liverock) sitting on the bottom of the sand.

I think for liverock, Walt has the right idea of making it man made. For all the negative things I said to Walt, I give him props coming up with a formula to make such things in Fiji. Me and Anthony did discuss how to make the rock back when he visited me. I did propose it to the fisheries, of course they loved the idea. I did experimentations with cement, sand, banana stems, pieces of styrofoam, dyes to make it more natural. It was a semi success but I needed other materials from the US. I left some pieces at our clam farm in the raceways and sure enough in 4 months time, it looked like liverock! The only thing was that it was too heavy. So I had to come up with ideas to make it lighter. Unfortunately, this is as far as I got, as I got screwed and never returned.

Sorry for the long post again, you guys got me talking and now I can't stop

Cheers,
Eddie


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Old 07/26/2008, 07:52 AM   #7
liverock
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Re: Tonga Ban

Quote:
Originally posted by Walt Smith
Hi All,
Since I was asked to weigh in on this issue and possibly shine some light on the facts I am happy to oblige.
It is true; the rock ban goes into effect on August 4th. Our only hope at this point is a proposal I have sent to Fisheries that outlines a more feasible phase out period.
In a letter sent to all the shippers (informing them of the ban) they were of the view that cultured rock could easily replace the harvest because the “technology already exist”. What they did not take into account was the fact that cultured rock must first be made and then put into the ocean for about 18 months before it is any good. Buying all of the raw materials such as cement, pumice, sand, iron oxide and a cement mixer plus all the labor is very expensive over the course of 18 months with no income to support this activity.
I have suggested a two year phase out period with the operator showing proof of aquaculture involvement and investment by January 09. If any one operator does not show proof then no further export permits will be issued to that operator.
I feel very used in this scenario because at the end of last year I was asked by fisheries to come over and give a presentation to them on how I grow corals and make live rock in Fiji. They asked many questions after my presentation and I felt encouraged that the bill to allow aquaculture would finally be passed because at that point it was not yet legal.
Well, to make a long story short, they used that presentation against the industry stating that “the technology already exist” and went on to impose the ban as soon as aquaculture was made legal. What I mean by legal is that there was no format, rules or protocol in the fisheries guidelines that had been passed by cabinet at that point so it was not allowed.
The result is no more live rock and 50% reduction on the coral quota.
I was also called into the National Economic Development Council last April to give a presentation to cabinet members on the sustainability of our export. Once they were satisfied with my report they ordered fisheries to carry out a resource assessment and environmental impact study BEFORE any bans were put in place. Fisheries ignored this demand (which is highly unusual) and did what they wanted anyway. They said that they already had the proof they needed. …… this is where your stories originate from.
A long, long time ago in a far away land named Tonga there was a fish and coral exporter and life was good. Soon there came other exporters and life got a little more complicated. Some exporters were good and some only interested in cashing in on some mystical good life. Ok back to reality!
There soon were 5 exporters with three fairly stable operations and experienced personnel. One of the other operators had plenty of trouble staying alive and the business changed hands several times with each change more and more desperate and unsustainable acts took place. The fifth company arrived made a big splash with lots of divers, big boats and illegal immigrants (over the amount allowed) and broke all sorts of rules getting some negative attention from fisheries.
Fisheries then gave permission for one of these two operators to set up a coral farm right under their noses at the fisheries facility. This “farm” was established by bringing in some “expert” from a fish store in the states and really making a mess. Just a bunch of broken off pieces of coral scattered around in the tanks so that they could be exempt from the coral quota the rest of us had to adhere to. After about a year they realized that they had a mountain of dead coral right outside their back door and started to take pictures of the damage. To make matters worse, this inexperienced “expert” went on the web (I think here) and started showing off horrifying pictures of himself walking all over the reef and holding up massive pieces of coral. This really concerned me as he was bringing all the wrong sort attention to our industry and a very uninformed, unsustainable practice was carried out right under their nose.
This is when they brought me in to demonstrate what a real coral farm should look like. I remember them asking me questions about the “farm” at their facility as if they doubted the validity of those efforts as only a ploy to evade quota restrictions. Since I did set them straight with my presentation and movie it is a shame they used this as an excuse to shut a totally viable and sustainable industry down.
About the insensitive comments regarding the workers this will present a huge problem to the economy. Since they burned the town down in 19 months ago unemployment is out of control … there simply are no jobs to be had. The Tongan government will not realize about 8 million in export trade, the countries second largest export and Air New Zealand is threatening to pull the direct flight making it very difficult to travel to and from Tonga. Once the direct flight is gone it will also be very difficult to ship whatever coral and fish we are allowed. I suspect most (if not all) exporters will simply close up shop leaving a large hole in the already fragile economy.
To answer more direct questions; our company has never been thrown out of any meeting, we only practice the most sustainable and proven methods for harvest and we continue to set the best practice examples for our industry. It is a shame that the good guys will suffer for the acts of a careless few.
Sorry for the long post but you asked for it. We are praying for a reinstatement of the policy and at least order the study and impose a reasonable phase out before August 4th or it will be too late then to do much about it.
Walt


Walt

The scenario you illustrated here is exactly what happened here in Florida in the early 1990's'

I collected some of the first live rock to be sold in the industry here in Florida when the Mini-Reef technology arrived from Germany. I was a very low tech, collect the loose rubble off of the bottom, bucket it up and take it to jerry of Manila Aquatics at the time, kind of collector.

To make a very long story short, soon every vessel that could get down the Tarpon river and out into the Gulf was coming back so loaded with rock they could hardly make headway.

Then one day a 60 Oil derrick boat showed up, and it was the beginning of the end. He would go out to the ledges, and collect everything in site, and use power tools to excavate rock from the Gulf, and bring in 30,000 pounds a trip. After a few trips, the local boat operators became alarmed at the habitat removal, the State of Florida got involved to ban collection, successfully did so, then the Federal Government got involved and did the same, eventually making ALL live rock harvest, state and Federal water illegal Jan. 1 1997. It only takes on bad apple to ruin the barrel......

If it had stayed a mom and pop industry we would still be collecting rock here today.

The alternative offered was Aquaculture. We were assured by the state that after a six month permit process, we would be able to lease acreage from the state, and farm our own rock. And to make this story a bit shorter, SIX YEARS after the initial permit application, we received the first permit for a 5 acre lease in the Gulf for live rock aquaculture.

It is now 17 years later, we have millions of pounds under production and have proved aquaculture works and was and is the future of this industry.

However.....

The road was a very complicated, sometimes impossible, and very expensive one to take. From governmental nightmares found here:

http://www.tampabaysaltwater.com/about/tbs3.html

to finding the correct substrate material here:

http://www.tampabaysaltwater.com/about/tbs4.html

it was a very long and incredibly hard process. But being in the position you are, you should be able to overcome all the hurdles and prove to the Tongan Government that aquaculture is a sustainable, and of great benefit to the habitat/economical environment/Government.

The only downside is the expense/production of culture material and time it takes to get an operation off the ground, and the rising air freight costs in the airline industry. But these are things that must be dealt with when aquaculturing.

I will say good luck with the fight, but I believe it will be the same end result as here. We got a reprieve here when we were able to collect in Federal water a couple of years after the state ban on live rock collection, but in the end, a total ban was enforced by the State and federally.

And the "dark" side of the industry flourished here also as the end was nearing, there was much back stabbing/name calling/fierce competition here in the state as everybody scrambled to find a new source of rock. We personally imported rock from Trinidad soon after the ban, others went the Haiti route, and other Caribbean islands also produced some wild rock, however to my knowledge, all imports have ceased from the Caribbean.
So in the end, aquaculture is the only economic and environmentally accepted way to be in the live rock business.

Good luck on you Tongan lobby, and feel free to contact me or use any info from our web page in your quest..


Richard TBS



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Old 07/28/2008, 03:06 AM   #8
chrisofWSI
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Location: Lautoka, Fiji Islands
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Hi Everyone,

I am Chris Turnier, former owner of Reefer Madness, and now the Mariculture and Livestock Manager at Walt Smith International in Fiji.

I was hired by Walt to specifically get the mariculture side of the business cranking (ie: aqua cultured coral and live rock) as this is my area of expertise. I have a BS in Fisheries with an emphasis in maricultue, and I have worked in the aquarium industry for the past 12 years.

In Fiji, our mariculture farm is slowly coming back after being wiped out by two cyclones in January. We now have close to 30,000 pieces of cultured coral on our farms, where close to 20% is placed back on the reef to repopulate areas that have bleached, been wiped out by pollution and/or storms. The rest is either set aside for F2 propagation or sent in our shipments to our various wholesalers around the world. What we have on the farm at the moment is just the beginning as we have lots and lots of room for growth. I spend at least 3 days a week (weather permitting), diving on our farms out in the ocean to make sure that everything is growing well and planted correctly.

I have also been developing new shapes to our already extensive cultured live rock line. We have literally tons upon tons of cultured live rock placed over areas of reef rubble that are and will be ready to supplant the sustainable live rock harvest (viewed by some as unsustainable but they fail to realize the actual area being collected from- which makes up less than maybe 1% of the overall reef area).

My whole life is built upon these farms. There is nothing else I would rather be doing. Walt placed me in this position. It is his dream as well to have a farm that competes with Indonesia (Bali, etc). These countries were forced to Aquaculture due to strains that a population of over 200 million bring. Fiji does not have these issues. Sure there is pollution local to the 4 larger cities but there are only around 800,000 people who live in the whole of Fiji, and most of the reefs are relatively pristine. The Fijian government did not enforce aquaculture upon the coral exporters. This is due to the fact that WSI alone has over 800 square miles of reef to collect from. I can travel by boat for more than 3 hours and still be in an area where we (and no other company) can collect from. That is HUGE! What that means is that we have close to no impact on the reef. A study was done by Ed Lovell of the University of the South Pacific who found that WSI collects 0.001% of the corals in our collection area. 0.001%!!!! That is beyond sustainable! There was a study done stating that up to 3% of a natural resource could be collected and still be sustainable. So those nay-Sayers that say that we are reef-rapers are incredibly mistaken. We are incredibly concerned with the environment. All of our divers are trained to have the utmost respect for the corals that they collect and the reefs that they collect from. Our divers are only armed with a hammer and a screw-driver. NOT CROW-BARS!!! We are meticulous in how we transport and keep the corals so that mortality is kept to an absolute minimum. Unfortunately no matter how careful we are there is breakage and die-off during transportation. When this happens we very carefully take the corals and place them back on the reef so that they can flourish once more.

Now that I have been in Fiji for over a year and I have been to Tonga several times I can now look back on what I have learned and observed and I can describe to you all what actually goes on here in the South Pacific. If any of you know me personally you all know that I am a very environmentally motivated person. It is me and my family’s life. It is extremely important to me to live and work for someone who shares the same value as I do. Walt has all of these values as well. Walt and I want this to be as environmentally sound a business as possible. That is the only way to keep the hundreds of Pacific Islanders that we employ in business for years to come. The world will not allow us to be careless with our environment. I will not allow the people who I manage to be careless. I want to save the reefs probably more than anyone that I know. But we can only do small parts. We need to focus on the future and the future is Mariculture and Aquaculture. Mariculture has not made Walt Smith International a dime. This is due to the slow movement of our hobby to gravitate toward cultured corals. WSI was the FIRST Company in the world to start commercially producing cultured corals and cultured live rock. Dave Palmer (when he was in the Solomon’s) was actually the first to attempt culturing corals but it was small scale and unfortunately temporary at that time.

Now I come to Tonga. Tonga is such beautiful little group of islands and reefs that cover an amazing amount of square miles. The diversity of coral (both soft and hard) exceeds that of Fiji (from what I have seen so far). It is an amazing place and you never know what you might see next while diving. Now I get to Eddie Hanson and his ranting on Walt. I am not sure where you feel you were called out. Walt never said your name and only a few within the actual business would actually remember those photos and actual instances. I think you are bringing up some old vendettas for your being booted out of Tonga and stating these issues to supposedly clear the air. I only know fragments of what happened in the past in Tonga. I heard bits and pieces through my years at Flying Fish Express and Reefer Madness. Several strange things that have been stated by Eddie about Walt are all hear-say. He said, that diver said… so on and so forth. From what I can see there is no truth to most of these statements. There are no Crow-Bars used for collecting corals. There isn’t the desire to collect and eliminate the rare corals. But one of the biggest problems is that there are 5 companies that all collect in the same area. That means that no fingers can be pointed at one coral exporter for the demise of the industry.

I’ll give you all an example of a certain situation that I learned of while in Tonga. I’m sure those that have been in the hobby awhile remember the huge and beautiful Purple Rhodactis inchoata that came from Tonga. Walt found these mushrooms in a secret place and he specifically told his divers to collect a few each week and not to tell anyone about the location. He was able keep this going for years and the population of mushrooms never decreased. But then one of WSI’s coral divers left for another company and within several weeks every single mushroom was gone!

I do know what occurs in Tonga these days. I have trained and showed our WSI divers what to collect. Our Tonga WSI station is run almost exactly the same way as our Fiji station. They have a small axe or a hammer and a screwdriver. That is all. I will state again, there are no Crow-bars used while collecting corals! What would the point be? You want to preserve the coral that you are collecting so that you can export them. You can’t sell something that is bashed and broken. And we don’t find a rare coral or color morph and wipe it out. What is the point of that? We want to collect it over the long run so that it will thrive and we can continue to get a descent price for it. That was our objective with the Tonga Purple Mush. That policy worked until other companies had their way.

Live rock in Tonga is collected from vast area of reef that has very little coral growth on them. This is usually due to natural environmental factors that include high impact zone, high turbidity, storm damage, etc. In difference to what most believe, it is incredible sustainable when you look at the reef as a whole and exactly what percentage of that reef is being collected for live rock harvest. Only a very few know how much actual reef there is in Tonga. It is vast, probably as expansive as Fiji. That means that there is plenty of areas to collect live rock from and because the area is so large that impact is very minimal.

Now this leads me to the future of the industry in Tonga. Unfortunately the government is indecisive as to what direction it wants this industry to go. But this could all easily be solved if an outside company came in to do a Non-Detriment Finding report and an Environmental Impact Study to show the Tongan government how benign our industry actually is. These studies in combination with several set collection areas for the different companies, while developing a plan for Aquaculture and Mariculture should allow our industry to go on far into the foreseeable future.

Thanks for hearing me out…

Chris Turnier


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Old 07/28/2008, 06:22 AM   #9
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hmmm, funny, but it seems the people that worked with eddie hanson call him 'crowbar', not walt. and most of his other ramblings seem to be at least part fabrication too.

http://www.reefs.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=122808

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Old 07/28/2008, 11:36 AM   #10
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First and foremost, let me just say I agree with Chris. The "diver said" quotes are all hear-say and hardly credible considering they most likely are from a disgruntled worker. Personally, I don't know Eddie, nor have I ever spoken with him so I can't share my experiences here. I have met Walt Smith, however and had the pleasure of shooting some footage for him of his farms in Fiji and let me just say that WSI goes well beyond what is required from the government to practice sustainable harvest and preserve the reefs.

I was instantly blown away to see an operation in which reefs were actually being built back up around where the culturing was being done. At a normal collection/aquaculturing site, one would find the standard steel racks with the corals growing on them...not much around. At WSI, the racks are surrounded by beautiful reefs that look like they has never been touched. I would hardly call this man or his company irresponsible with our reefs. It is clear he as well as his crew have a deep passion for protectiing them and actually do just that.

It is sad to hear stories like the one Chris just posted with the Tongan Purple Mushroom, but unfortunately is very true. Most collection companies don't have the passion, nor the infrastructure to deal with nature in a positive manner...nor do they care. Let me end with a good story.

On the Coral Coast in Fiji, many of the corals were wiped out by over collection and natural disasters (silt from run off, rising temps, etc.) Now let me tell you about a program in which tourist can actually plant a cultured coral that they choose in an area in an attempt to rebuild what was once a beautiful area. The corals are grown by WSI and funded by WSI. Now tell me that sounds like someone who has no respect for the reefs...



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Old 07/28/2008, 11:48 AM   #11
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All this talks without pictures is worthless.It's sound like paradise without the pictures.


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Old 07/28/2008, 12:17 PM   #12
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orientalexpress - guess it's time to plan a trip to Fiji


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Old 07/31/2008, 11:46 AM   #13
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Well in my opinion someone that takes something from nature and doesn't put something back is a crook to the enviroment................Coral farming can be fine as long as no one gets greedy. Oops to late for that. Greed is what makes the world go round unfortunately. I have a question for all coral farmers who ever you may be, when you entered into the trade of harvesting coral did u do A. get into it to make money or B. you said I want to preserve the corals reefs around the world so I'm going to take coral out of the ocean to only put back 20-30% of what you take out. Atleast at a beef farm they breed just as many cows as they kill. Oh but wait atleast we eat the cows that are killed.



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Old 07/31/2008, 05:32 PM   #14
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ya, but how many cows are there left in the wild?


oh and the answer is C, coral farmers grow coral to keep from having to harvest it's wild equivelant. if I take one wild coral and turn it into 50 aquacultured pieces, there's 49 corals not collected from the wild. if I hold and grow 5 mother colonies and these give me 35-50 frags a year, there's 175 to 250 corals not pulled from the wild.

those who get into aquaculture to make money are in for a suprise.


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Old 07/31/2008, 07:58 PM   #15
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Granted this is true however do all coral farmers do this. Also in this situation RR you are aquaculturing in a tank not in tonga and other countries back yards.


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Old 07/31/2008, 09:28 PM   #16
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yes, I'm pretty sure that's how all coral farmers do it. the very definition of aquaculturing is reproduction from parent colonies so you can sell the clones.
whether it's me and my backyard fishroom producing small scale or walt mariculturing on a large scale, the concept and benefits of propagation are environmentally and (can be) economically sound and we all win.
one day not that far off, aquaculture will be all there is.
then my green star polyps will buy me a bentley...


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Old 08/03/2008, 08:33 AM   #17
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How about this! We all do farming in our own tanks, Sell to other hobbiest or trade, Leave the reefs alone and all will be well.

Here is the bottom line.

At some point anyone into farming from the ocean started with profit foremost in mind.

Take garf for example. This is the foremost and front runner in my book that cares about what is happening to our reefs and started the research with not taking corals from the reefs.

We could all take a great lesson in what Garf has done to shedd light on this subject first and foremost. I guess that is why they are NON-PROFIT.


THANKS!


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Old 08/03/2008, 09:25 AM   #18
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I couldn't agree more gigi4539.


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Old 08/03/2008, 10:21 AM   #19
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Where do think Garf got all their corals from initially? They still get their snails and hermits from the wild as well


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Old 08/03/2008, 12:17 PM   #20
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Quote:
How about this! We all do farming in our own tanks, Sell to other hobbiest or trade, Leave the reefs alone and all will be well.
...except the reefs. You're making the assumption that stopping the fishing pressure from the hobby stops fishing pressure on the reefs. The people there need to feed their families and the reef is their major resource. In the absence of other economic alternatives (which is the case in most collecting areas), the collecting pressure from the hobby just gets shifted to things like coral mining and subsistence fishing. No one benefits that way. The collectors suffer because most fisheries are lower-value, so they make less money for more work and the reefs suffer because more has to be collected and the fishermen are much less selective.

The best option is one that removes pressure from the reefs but still provides income for the locals so the pressure isn't just shifted. Promoting in situ aquaculture is a great option to do that. The problem is that the farms that have tried to do that have had trouble keeping costs down enough to compete with corals being grown stateside. People growing and trading frags is nice, but is only a small part of making the hobby sustainable because it undercuts establishing sustainable use of the reefs.


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Old 08/03/2008, 08:52 PM   #21
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did u do A. get into it to make money or B. you said I want to preserve the corals reefs around the world
Quote:
At some point anyone into farming from the ocean started with profit foremost in mind.
IM sorry, but did you guys start your jobs because you wanted to make a difference? There are very few people that have the luxury of not working for money and do what they do for free. Keep in mind exporters are just like everybody else in this world working to feed their family. That doesn't mean they don't care about the reefs.


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Old 08/04/2008, 01:28 AM   #22
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greenbean,


That is called competition. When things get tough, we think of ways to control our cost in any company you run, or look at practical ways or a different means. That does not give me the right to violate laws or lower my morals and values as an ethical business manager. We have proven time and again how destructive we can be as human nature desires without thinking of impact on the environment. That would be like saying, well we can not be competitve with the middle east on oil, so lets lower our standards on shipping and drop some of the cost prohibitive safety standards to make up some profit to keep our prices down. We can say the same for refineries, because no one wants them in your back yard, who cares! We can now be competitive with oil and gas and lower the price. The reason we are looking at coral farming is because we are devistating our reefs and oceans. Now that is some extreme examples, but before we go on destroying what we have already desimated lets look at the options. The Tongan government would in my opinion be looking at this for the future. If you do not, then they will have no more reefs to sell off. Once again they face the same situation! No jobs! Thank goodness Austrailia has a ban as well as the United States. Then we would have no beautiful reefs to dive. Hey thats called tourisim! What a novel way to make money!


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Old 08/04/2008, 07:07 AM   #23
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There is no way in situ farms can control costs to compete with people trading and selling locally grown frags. Shipping costs are a huge chunk of the price and they're controlled by the airline, not the growers. Even if the farmers could produce corals for free, shipping would still make them more expensive than most locally produced frags. It comes down to whether hobbyists really want to do something to "preserve the coral reefs of the world" or if they're unwilling to pay that premium because it's all about money for them.

Tourism is certainly another option to give value to the reefs, but it's not easy and doesn't have a great environmental record itself. It's certainly possible to have a thriving tourist industry in some of these places, and Fiji is a good example, but it takes a lot of investment to establish that. In most of the collection areas, the tourism infrastructure isn't there. There aren't a lot of restaurants or hotels, the airports are small and don't support large airliners or large numbers of planes, etc. Changing that requires a huge monetary investment (which most of these places don't have) and lots of construction material, which usually mean coral rock for aggregate and cement. There are also the logistical issues that are out of the hands of these places. Look at the Marshall Islands. It takes a full day, sometimes 2, to get there from LA and will cost you close to $3000. There's nothing they can do to change that. Once you get there, you can see all of the main island in a day. When you're ready to leave, flights out are so infrequent and canceled so regularly that it can often take 3-4 days, sometimes a week, to get out. That won't work for most tourists. Now how do they compete with places like Fiji for tourist dollars?

Tourism can also do a considerable amount of damage to the reefs. Israel's reefs are an excellent example of that. Divers and snorkelers have destroyed many of the most popular sites to the point that the government has been forced to close some of them completely and limit the access to other sites. Almost everywhere diving tourism is popular has similar problems, they just don't have hard numbers on how bad things are and/or the government doesn't have the interest or resources to fix it.

Tourism is a good option if it's properly regulated, but it's not a viable option everywhere collection is occurring. However, the logistics and infrastructure (with a little modification) for farming are already in place where collection is occurring now. It's mostly just a matter of getting approval to do it, training the locals, and making it profitable.


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Old 08/04/2008, 12:13 PM   #24
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And I just sold off over 100 lbs, I guess they need a break so it can replenish but I like the idea of branching aragocrete.


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Old 08/04/2008, 11:54 PM   #25
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What!!! Instead of pure 100% Tonga branch taken from the reefs.

Then it would not be the real deal? Why make some when you could have the real deal?????


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