Champions Update

Protecting, educating, innovating: here's what our Voices for Kelp, Coral and Rivers are up to

APRIL, 2024

Drinkable Rivers

LPF River Warrior Li An Poah was born alongside the IJssel river in the Netherlands – but it was another river, the Rupert in Canada, that opened her eyes to this simple truth: Those who destroy the river destroy themselves.

The Rupert introduced her to the wild beauty of pristine river ecosystems – and their fragility. Canoeing down the Rupert, Li An not only tested her own physical boundaries, but experienced the way the river worked in harmony with its surrounding. To her surprise, she also discovered she could drink the water she was travelling through. Invited back three years later to witness the changes brought by industry and hydroelectric dams, Li An was shocked at what she found: the water was no longer drinkable. So she decided to dedicate her life to Drinkable Rivers. And started walking.

Drinkable Rivers - How the River Became my Teacher  is a book full of wise words as well as wild places. In the course of it, Li An  walks over 15,000 km, engaging with leading ecological thinkers, philosophers and Indigenous leaders, and always meeting new rivers. She studies alongside the Dart, and walks the entire 1,000-km length of the Meuse, from its source in France to its mouth in the North Sea, to draw attention to her dream of drinkable rivers.

Water is our lifeline. And Li An is still walking. In April you might catch her on the streets of NYC where she is launching her book and attending the premier of a film about her work. Find out more at Drinkable Rivers.

Drinkable Rivers – How the River Became my Teacher is available through a number of online platforms, or enquire here.

Photo Credit: Mark Henk Ganzeboom, Kobalt Foto.

MARCH, 2024

A Living Artery

River Warrior Mark Barrow has completed his river documentary “RIVER WHARFE: A Living Artery”. Dedicated to capturing the essence and critical importance of river ecosystems, Mark devoted five years (2018–2023) to meticulously filming the entire length of the River Wharfe in Yorkshire, England. His journey to document the river spanning 65 miles and involved underwater filming, aerial shots from drones, and on-land footage, offering a comprehensive view of the river's aquatic life and the challenges it faces, including pollution. The documentary aims to highlight the vital significance of not only the Wharfe but rivers worldwide. Be sure to catch the trailer and mark your calendars for its release in November of this year.

Photo Credit: Mark Barrow

Making a Dam Change

After years of advocacy and legal action, our River Warriors at Idaho Rivers United, in collaboration with Pacific Northwest Tribes, have achieved an exciting breakthrough in their fight to protect the Snake River. This waterway, the largest tributary of the Columbia River in eastern Washington, has been the focus of litigation against Federal government dam operations that severely impacted salmon populations and local communities. The culmination of these efforts is the groundbreaking Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative, a detailed new strategy for salmon restoration, proposing alternatives for the services – energy, transportation, irrigation, and recreation – currently offered by the lower Snake River dams, to facilitate their removal. “Following the leadership of our Tribal partners on this issue, we couldn't be more proud and excited to see the government finally put breaching on the table and commit to a timeline to move forward with what would be the largest river restoration project in North America, likely the world, if these dams are finally removed,” says Nick Kunath, Conservation Program Manager at IRU.

Photo Credit: Idaho River United

Status of Malaysian Coral

Reef Check Malaysia, where our Coral Champion Alvin Chelliah is Programme Manager, recently published their ‘2023 Annual Survey Report’, capturing the health of coral reefs in Malaysia. According to Alvin, the survey program is the “longest and widest coral reef monitoring survey effort in the country”. In 2023, surveys were conducted at 326 locations, both within established Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and outside protected zones. The average condition of the coral reefs assessed was classified as "fair", with a living coral cover of 45.87%. This represents a modest decline from the 2022 figure of 47.83%. Read the full report here.

Photo Credit: Yusri Yusuf

February, 2024

Shark Science Over Fear

Coral Champion Luiz Rocha recently co-wrote a paper titled ‘Beyond fear: a new paradigm to manage shark recovery in Brazilian marine protected areas’.The study delves into the challenges of shark conservation in Brazilian Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), criticising fear-based responses like shark culling after shark bite incidents. Advocating for a scientific approach, it underscores the ecological significance of sharks and their susceptibility to human threats. "We disagree and firmly believe we can share the oceans peacefully with them," says Luiz. 

Celebrating Community Coverage

River Warrior Fredrick Mugira recently received an award from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the Science Journalist category ‘Community Coverage’ for his reporting on plastic pollution in rivers and lakes in Uganda and holding polluters accountable. The National Academies lauded Fredrick for his “entire portfolio [which] is impressive, well-researched, and well-written with strong visuals and data visualisation. Mugira has won the trust of the community with terrific, focused reporting that is underrepresented and much needed”. Congratulations Frederick!

Champions Supporting Champions

Champions are even more impactful when they work together. Coral Champion Emma Kennedy’s ReefCloud team recently teamed up with our other Coral Champions, the Sea Women of Melanesia, to explore how technology developed at The Australian Institute of Marine Science can help empower communities to better keep an eye on their local reefs. Sea Women of Melanesia organised a skills workshop for Indigenous women from North Queensland, Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait Islands), and Papua New Guinea. The workshop involved ReefCloud training and looked at essential marine science skills crucial for leading sustainable management of marine resources. Sea Women also contributed 2,500 reef images from around Papua New Guinea to the database and provided guidance to the ReefCloud team, which transforms photos taken by snorkelers and divers into vital data about reef health. Check out ABC News’s article for more details about the cultural exchange work our champions have been doing together.

Mapping the World's Coral Reefs

Coral Champions Emma Kennedy and Allen Coral Atlas helped finish mapping the world's coral reefs for the first time. This is an incredible achievement: never before have coral reefs been mapped to habitat level using one consistent mapping approach. Through these new high-resolution maps, scientists have provided updated estimates of the extent of global coral reefs, improving our understanding, facilitating global collaboration,and catalysing global conservation actions. “Coral reefs form complex underwater structures, and our classification scheme is a lens through which we capture their diversity of forms and features,” says Emma.

“In developing clear and consistent terminology for our maps, we aimed not just for accuracy but for utility, ensuring that these maps serve as valuable tools for conservationists, managers, and researchers alike.”

Fighting for the Wye

Earlier this month, River Warriors River Action UK took the Environment Agency to court over failing to prevent agricultural pollution in the River Wye. They gathered outside the Cardiff Civil Justice court for the hearing, and called for the UK government to obey the laws to protect rivers from agricultural pollution, noting how rivers like the Wye are being reduced to the lowest levels of environmental standards. Charles Watson, founder and Chair of the group, acknowledged the strong community support for their campaign with the "incredible turnout from [their] friends in the Wye Valley and beyond." The judge has heard all the evidence and the final verdict is expected in a few weeks time. Follow River Action on Twitter and Instagram for more updates.

Photo Credit: River Action UK

Telling Kelp Stories

Kelp Champion Josie Iselin recently launched the online-based book, The Mysterious World of Bull Kelp. Combining stunning, interactive illustrations and in-depth, accurate kelp research, Josie explores the kelp forests of the North Pacific Coast. The book is part of Above/Below, an ocean literacy campaign that seeks to raise awareness about kelp forests through storytelling.

Photo Credit: @reefcheckfoundation

Reaching for MARRS

Coral Champions Carmela Isabel, David Sugget and Emma Camp recently published a new research paper titled 'Carbonate budgets induced by coral restoration of a Great Barrier Reef site following cyclone damage'. The study examines the effectiveness of the Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS, or "Reef Stars") in restoring degraded coral reefs, focusing on their impact on coral carbonate production, which is essential for reef growth and ecosystem services. "This work provides a robust example of why coral restoration matters and, in this case, how coral restoration recovers carbonate budgets on a long-term degraded reef site,” says Carmela Isabel. “Moreover, we advocate for carbonate budgets to be considered a key metric to evaluate success in restoration efforts, as this metric relates to several ecosystem services (wave attenuation, biodiversity, habitat provision, etc.).”

Ask the Experts

Coral Champions, the International Coral Reef Institution (ICRI), launched "Ask The Expert," a series that showcases various experts discussing critical aspects of coral ecosystems and their conservation. Through its short, interview-style format, this series tackles a range of fundamental questions, from "What are coral reefs?" to "Why are coral reefs important?" Each episode is crafted to provide viewers with a comprehensive understanding of vital issues, enhancing public awareness and knowledge in an accessible and engaging manner. Watch the first episode here