[Coral-List] Chinese Fishers Destroying SCS reefs as anti-ivory action boosts giant clam market...

John Mcmanus jmcmanus at rsmas.miami.edu
Thu May 5 15:02:14 EDT 2016

Hi David,

Thank you for extending the conversation on the Giant Clam Issue.  Here are some points:

1.	The connection of the rapid rise of the giant clam carving industry to the reduction in the ivory trade was not my idea, but rather has appeared recently in other articles including one in Science with the subtitle “With elephant tusks harder to obtain, the “jade of the sea” is the new ivory in China” (Larson 2016). It was only after that article was already published that it became clear that we are not only dealing with the shameful eradication of a giant clam species, but with the massive degradation of coral reef ecosystems. The author did indeed cite other forces at play in the proliferation of the giant clam industry, including “improved carving techniques, Hainan’s popularity with tourists, the growth in e-commerce and the domestic wholesale market …” However, it should be clear just by looking at the products that this trade is building on the ivory trade  (e.g.. https://world.taobao.com/item/39520343928.htm?fromSite=main&spm=a312a..7728556.w4023-7931277905.2.mXhCS7 and links on the lower right). The carvings look like ivory carvings and the likely customers will include those who would normally decorate their rooms with ivory but either can no longer afford to, or understand that there is a stigma attached to using ivory. Of course, as with ivory, the products include beads, bracelets, paperweights, etc. A significant difference is that the shape of the large shells makes them highly desirable for making large, intricately carved scenes. I suspect that if there were lots of giant clams to go around, the ivory trade would see considerable competition. Even more significantly, in most buyers’ minds, there is presently no stigma associated with buying giant clam products.   

2.	Apparently the term “global NGO” was not clear enough. This does not refer to the highly admirable and brave efforts of local individuals, government personnel and NGOs to halt the supply of ivory and apply a stigma to buying it locally. This refers to the international NGOs whose work has severely reduced the global market for ivory and products from other threatened wildlife through efforts such as putting Yao Ming and Jackie Chan on TV to develop a broad global stigma against buying and displaying these products. 

As Ed Gomez rightly pointed out last year in an article, the global NGOs have avoided getting involved in anything to do with the South China Sea. The same is apparently true of funding agencies. The best explanation I can find is that it is “too controversial”. Apparently there is some sort of widespread fear of retaliation against their organizations. However, the shark-fin soup issue was much more controversial than anything to do with giant clams, as this soup was deeply tied to customs and protocols at state dinners. Despite this, due to the efforts of many individuals and NGOs, both mainland China and Taiwan have recently banned serving shark-fin soup at state dinners.  

I agree that the coral community must develop their own conservation organizations. However, right now only the large, well-established global NGOs have the experience, infrastructure  and funding channels to play the key roles internationally that they have played previously for ivory, tigers, sharks and sea turtles. If they do not act soon, this highly destructive practice of giant clam harvesting is going to spread to many coral reefs around the world. 

Larson C (2016) Shell trade pushes giant clams to the brink Science  22 Jan 2016: Vol. 351, Issue 6271, pp. 323-324 DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6271.323 


John W. McManus, PhD.                           
Professor, Marine Biology and Ecology
Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS)
University of Miami. 
Website: http://www.rsmas.miami.edu/people/faculty-index/?p=john-mcmanus
ResearchGate site: http://www.researchgate.net/profile/John_Mcmanus4
"If you lose a diamond ring in the bedroom, don't search for it in the living room just because the light there is better."

From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml..noaa.gov] on behalf of David Obura [dobura at cordioea.net]
Sent: Thursday, May 05, 2016 8:24 AM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Chinese Fishers Destroying SCS reefs as anti-ivory action boosts giant clam market...

Hi John, apologies for this public post, but reacting to Johnny Langenheim’s posting of the link to your blog post on the above …

Your motivation for linking the giant clam issue to the gap in ivory supply resulting from the recent upsurge in activism and enforcement to stop poaching elephants is understandable. But to blame the entire upswing of clam harvesting on successful elephant conservation is disingenuous and doesn’t really help (we should congratulate and emulate, not lament!). Even worse, putting the onus on “global NGOs” committed to elephant conservation to also take up giant clam protection misses the point entirely.

While some global NGOs are clearly central to current success in the elephant scene, it is really the commitment of national NGOs, individuals and government employees (particularly rangers) that bear the brunt of this work, and the very high personal risk.

Just like with climate change, overpopulation and other pressing issues facing coral reefs, it is upon US to get up and do something about it!! Not some amorphous entity out there that will solve the problems! The conclusions in Carin Jantzen’s and Sarah Frias-Torres’ posts (‘Coral reefs in the face of climate change’, 4/5 May) are right on – let’s not fiddle while our Rome burns! We need to build OUR champions, OUR institutions, OUR networks and REALLY support countries and individuals that are the engine of successful action (rather than doing what we have done in the coral reef world, which is to often compete with one another as our science and conservation agenda has matured)

I know you know this and already do this John – but the title and first and last paragraphs of your 3 May blog post just don’t help!! Mine is really a general call for many with technical and public platforms that social media provide - you have great platforms to reach out and do it really well, but I do feel it is worth being self-critical and reaching for the best standard that coral reefs urgently need – to raise the game, and how our work delivers on action, at every step!

David Obura

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