Syd Singer on Climate Change and Conservation

How Climate Change Can Change Conservation:  From “Invasive” to “Invaluable”

Commentary by Syd Singer:

Change is in the air – and in the sea and on the land.  In fact, the entire planet is undergoing a transformation called climate change.

Temperatures will rise, along with humidity and the level of the oceans.  Storms will be more severe, along with droughts and floods.  Animals and plants and microorganisms will have to adapt to survive.  Some species will not make it.  Others will evolve and adapt to the new, changing ecosystem conditions.

However, despite all this change that is acknowledged and feared by governments throughout the world, there has been no change in the way we conserve our natural resources and protect endangered species.

The goal of modern conservation goes beyond protection of forests and wild spaces from development and pollution.  Today’s conservationists fight to protect and preserve native ecosystems and native species against “invasive” species.  The goal is to return “invaded” ecosystems to their condition prior to the introductions of highly competitive “alien” species that have altered the environmental landscape.

Essentially, conservationists and preservationists are resisting environmental change.

In the past, environmental managers introduced species into new environments to increase biodiversity and  resource values of forests and other natural areas.  They valued species for their ability to grow well in their new environments.   Now, however, they call these thriving introduced species “invasive”, and introduce insects, fungi, or other biocontrol pests to slow down their growth, or kill them with poisons, chainsaw, or bulldozers.

The hope is that by eliminating species that “don’t belong” in a certain ecosystem, we can return that ecosystem to a more natural, balanced state where native species and endangered species can thrive without competition from  introductions.

However, climate change is a deal breaker for all conservation strategies.

Climate change means that native species that once thrived in past ecosystems may be threatened with extinction in the near future.  Every species of plant, insect, mammal, bird, fungus, bacteria, and even virus will be impacted by these changes in the conditions of life.  Native ecosystems existed in a different world of the past, with different conditions than we have today and will have tomorrow.

Climate change means you can never go back to the way it was centuries ago.  Today’s and tomorrow’s forests, coastal ecosystems, and oceans may not support yesterday’s species.  And this change is now fast upon us.

Changing conditions will lead to a rebalancing of the entire food chain.  Some dominant species that preferred the old conditions will fall, and new species that thrive on the change will take their place.

In short, this is a time of rapid evolution.  It is a time to look forward, not backward.

As we assess species for their ability to survive and thrive in the new environmental conditions that are coming, we may discover that some species currently considered “invasive” for their ability to grow well are actually “invaluable” for being able to keep natural areas forested into the future, and our oceans vital and healthy.

The goal of environmental management should be to have healthy, vital ecosystems, regardless of the nativity of the species creating them.  We cannot afford to attack introduced species for growing well and outcompeting native species.  This ability to survive and thrive may make them invaluable in the future.

Those conservationists and preservationists who want to maintain native species and native ecosystems can fence, weed and manage areas that can serve as museums of the past biological world.   But such natural preserve areas will require constant commitment of resources in an endless battle against the tide of climate change.

More importantly, we need to plant for the future, not weed for the past.  We need to stop killing the fittest and saving the least fit, or the future forests will consist solely of weak and unhealthy trees.  We need to value trees for growing well, and not just for being native, ensuring that we will still have forests to clean the air, remove carbon dioxide, and provide resources for man and wildlife as the climate changes.

Conservationism itself must change, evolving from an environmental philosophy that fights change into one that embraces and manages it.

The past is done.  Climate change is now giving us a new world unfolding before our eyes.  Either we fight the inevitable changes kicking and screaming for a lost past, or we plan for a better future by surfing the wave of change.

I say let’s surf!

Aquaculture, Aquaponics and Tilapia Workshops Planned August 16-20

Media Release:

Hawaii’s growing aquaculture and aquaponics industry will be the subject of five days of meetings next week (August 16 to 20) in Hilo, sponsored by the University of Hawai’i Aquaculture Program in collaboration with UH Hilo and the UH Hilo Conference Center.

UH Hilo conference Center Director, Judith Fox-Goldstein said “These workshops bring together a unique mix of producers, researchers, legislators, and members of the business community to offer local and international perspectives on aquaculture, or fish farming, and aquaponics, which integrates fish and plant farming.  The series concludes with participants touring several Big Island backyard, commercial and innovative aquaculture and aquaponics farms.”

The Hawaii Aquaculture & Aquaponics Association (HAAA) meets Monday, August 16, 2010 at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel Moku’ola Ballroom, chaired by Dr. Kevin Hopkins, director of the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center (PACRC), and features presentations on farming of freshwater and saltwater organisms, such as finfish, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants.

The International Workshop on Aquaponics and Tilapia (IWAT) follows Tuesday through Thursday (August 17 to 19, 2010) with morning sessions at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, and afternoon ‘how to’ sessions at the PACRC in Keaukaha.  IWAT is chaired by the University of Hawaiʻi Aquaculture Program coordinator, Dr. Benny Ron.

“The U.S. imports 80 percent of its seafood (10.7 billion pounds) from overseas and professional development is an ongoing need for the aquaponics industry to provide up-to-date information and resources.   Aquaponics is an approved USDA-certified organic method of farming, whereas the process uses a minute 2% of the water needed to grow a conventional farm, and with a fraction of the land,” Dr. Ron points out, adding that the process will produce ten times the amount of produce of conventional farming on the same amount of land, and uses 70% less energy than conventional farming.

The main instructor in this workshop is James Rakocy, the Director of the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) Agricultural Experiment Station and a Research Professor of Aquaculture, whose research has concentrated on the development of production systems for tilapia that conserve and reuse water and recycle nutrients.

In addition to Rakocy, keynote speakers include experts from Australia and Israel.  Wilson Lennard recognized as Australia’s leading expert in aquaponics has been studying aquaponics for the past eight years; his research proved that an optimal balance of fish to plants can be achieved, so that the same water may be used perpetually within the system, meaning that water is never removed from the system, thereby making aquaponics the most water efficient food growing technology in the world today.

Gideon Hulata is a senior research scientist at the Department of Poultry and Aquaculture Sciences, Agricultural Research Organization (ARO), Israel, and an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His recent research focuses on genetic improvement of tilapias, control of sex ratios in these fishes, as well as evaluation of new species for aquaculture in Israel. Through collaboration with U.S. scientists he is also involved in the mapping of the tilapia genome and in genomic studies of the sex determination pathway in tilapias. He is a member of various scientific societies, and has published more than 130 articles in reviewed scientific literature.

For more information on the workshop series, and the complete program visit or call the UH Hilo Conference Center at (808) 974-7555.  Learn more about aquaculture in Hawaiʻi at Dr. Ron’s website,, or the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Center at