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The Global Marine Species Assessments (GMSA) project, which is headquartered at Old Dominion University and led by marine biologist Kent Carpenter, is enjoying a high-profile month of June.

A warning about the damage done to Caribbean coral by climate change, warmer waters and toxic runoffs was issued by the GMSA on June 7 and has been reported by media worldwide.

Also, beginning June 15, the work of GMSA will get a $1 million shot in the arm from one of its sponsoring organizations, the World Conservation Union. The union is the world's largest conservation network, bringing together nearly 1,000 government agencies and nongovernment organizations. It is based in Gland, Switzerland, and is often referred to as IUCN because of its earlier name of International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

The $1 million, four-year grant will support the work of Carpenter, as well as an ODU postdoctoral associate and other research associates. The funding agreement was signed by representatives of the IUCN and the ODU Research Foundation.

The warning about coral extinction, which identified critical threats to six Caribbean species, was the result of ODU's relationship with the IUCN and Conservation International, a nonprofit conservation organization. The Department of Biological Sciences at ODU agreed in June 2005 to collaborate with the two sponsors and the GMSA project was launched. Carpenter is professor of biological sciences.

During its first two years, the GMSA project has been "very successful," according to the latest agreement between IUCN and ODU. Among the activities have been workshops to identify species that are candidates for inclusion on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. By means of the Red List, IUCN seeks to influence marine policy and conservation efforts worldwide.

Other than Caribbean coral, the GMSA focus so far has been on sharks and rays of the eastern Atlantic, algae and corals of the Galapagos, groupers throughout the world, and Caribbean algae, seagrasses and mangroves.

"This current support is a continuation of Kent's research, which has attracted attention from around the world," said Lytton John Musselman, the Mary Payne Hogan Professor of Botany and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences.

"For many years he has produced manuals for the identification of
marine animals, and these are used in many countries around the globe. When I was in Namibia recently and asked about the identification of a fish, I was given a book co-authored by Kent Carpenter!"

The latest agreement with IUCN notes the enormity of the work that lies ahead for GMSA and states the intent for a long-term relationship between IUCN and the ODU foundation for the continuation of GMSA past June 2011. "The $1 million is just the tip of the iceberg," said Carpenter. "This is a huge project and will mean a lot of recognition for ODU in marine conservation."

Six species of the corals that build reefs in the Caribbean, including the formerly prominent staghorn and elkhorn corals, are dying off and could become extinct, according to the news release dated June 7. This was the finding of two dozen scientists who reviewed studies and scientific data at a GMSA workshop in March.

Michael L. Smith, director of the Caribbean Biodiversity Initiative at Conservation International, was quoted in the release along with Carpenter and other experts. Said Smith, "One of the Atlantic Ocean's most beautiful marine habitats no longer exists in many places because of dramatic increases in coral diseases, mostly caused by climate change and warmer waters."

Carpenter noted how Caribbean tourism relies on the health of its sea life and added, "Concentrated marine conservation and a global effort to halt man-induced climate change are necessary to preserve this vital economic engine in the region."

The warning was the subject of news stories on CBS, Time magazine online, Science Daily online, the International Herald Tribune and many more broadcast, print and Internet outlets.

As GMSA coordinator, Carpenter is aligned with a Conservation International board of directors that includes the actor Harrison Ford, Queen Noor of Jordan and a collection of business leaders from companies such as Wal-Mart, Starbucks and DreamWorks Animation.

The ODU marine biologist is known internationally for his work in waters near the Philippines, where he has documented the existence of a region that has the richest shorefish biodiversity in the world.

When President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines signed an executive order Nov. 8, 2006, to strengthen environmental protections throughout her archipelago nation, she was endorsing Carpenter's scientific research. His nearly 30 years of research in and around the Philippines resulted two years ago in an internationally publicized finding-the central part of the nation is the "center of the center" for world marine shorefish biodiversity, and the peak in this marine biodiversity is found in the Verde Island Passage.

This article was posted on: June 11, 2007

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