Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Marine managers need to assist coral recruitment and settlement (in hurricane years)

From an article posted on Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Apr. 29, 2008) — Hurricanes and storms limit the ability of corals in Belize to “recruit” new coral into their communities, according to an Earthwatch-supported study published in Marine Environmental Research.

“Increasing evidence now shows that storms are becoming more intense due to climate change,” said lead author and Earthwatch scientist Dr. James Crabbe from the University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom.

Coral reefs—which can grow to be thousands of years old—form and grow when free-swimming coral larvae in the ocean attach to rocks or other hard surfaces and begin to develop. Intense storms can wipe out this “recruitment” process.

“Storms threaten the survival of the entire reef itself,” said Crabbe, who found similar results in another Earthwatch-supported study in Jamaica a few years ago. The new study will appear in the May issue of Marine Environmental Research.

“If the storms don’t destroy corals outright, they render them more susceptible to disease, and that is certainly apparent on the Belize reefs,” said Crabbe, who is doing a lecture tour related to this work throughout 2008—deemed the International Year of the Reef by the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI).

The study holds implications for marine park managers, Crabbe said. “They may need to assist coral recruitment and settlement [in hurricane years] by establishing coral nurseries and then placing the baby corals (larvae) in the reef at discrete locations” or by setting up artificial reef blocks to help the corals
survive . . . .


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Turtles to be climate change canaries

From a press release issued by WWF:

Just as canaries help miners monitor underground gases, marine turtles are emerging as excellent indicators of the effects of climate change.

“Turtles are a really good way to study climate change because they depend on healthy beaches as well as mangroves, sea grass beds, coral reefs and deep ocean ecosystems to live”, said Dr. Lucy Hawkes, coordinator of an initiative to develop adaptation strategies for climate change impacts to turtles.

As part of the initiative, WWF launched a new website today, Adaptation to Climate Change in Marine Turtles (ACT).

“Understanding of how climate change may affect the beaches, the reef and the open ocean will not only benefit endangered sea turtle populations, but also the millions of people who live along the coastlines of the world and depend upon marine resources and environmental services.”


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Prepared for turtle nesting

Volunteers in CEA's turtle protection program have readied signs to identify nests and warn people not to distrub them. Volunteers began day light patrols of beeches this week. Once they spot a nest, nighttime patrols will begin.

Click photo to enlarge.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Earth Day in Akumal, Mexico

Students from the telesecondario (distance learning school) wait to plant trees on Earth Day in Akumal pueblo. Centro Ecologico Akumal and Eco-Bahia organized Earth Day activities and provided supplies and staff to help with the plantings and trash pick up.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Beach erosion threatens Cancun economy

An English version of a story in the Novedades doesn't seem to be on the Web, but the story says that the loss of beaches in Cancun threatens Cancun's economy. The storm surge from hurrianes could badly damage the hotels. A multi-million dollar project to restore the beaches after the last round of hurricanes.

La erosión marina cada día gana terreno, a tal grado que muchos cimientos de hoteles y condominios ya sufren los estragos del fuerte oleaje que deja al descubierto las estructuras de concreto.

En un recorrido aéreo a bordo del helicóptero del Grupo SIPSE, Novedades de Quintana Roo captó cómo el mar invade tierra y algunas playas se han reducido drásticamente, incluso algunas casi desaparecen.

La situación es de sumo riesgo. El escenario de las olas chocando contra las barreras de contención de los hoteles, desde punta Cancún hasta playa Marlín y otros puntos hasta Delfines, es poco alentador.

En el reciente Foro Económico Mundial para América Latina, el secretario del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Semarnat), Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada habló sobre la posibilidad de invertir para recuperar las playas.

Aunque para realizar un nuevo relleno se requiere una millonaria inversión que permita a los más de 30 hoteles, que presentan severa erosión en su estructura, seguir operando con playas.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Adopt a turtle for yourself, a friend, or the Earth

CEA's Sea Turtle Program works in Akumal Bay, Half Moon Bay, Jade Beach and Turtle Beach, Akumal, Mexico, to protect and study Green (Chelonia mydas) and Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) turtles.

Support CEA's turtle program by adopting a turtle as a gift to yourself, someone else, or the Earth.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Dive for Earth Day with the Costa Maya’s Tourism Business Association, Mahahual, México

From an article posted on Playa Maya News:

The Costa Maya’s Tourism Business Association and community volunteers will join in the action for Project AWARE Foundation’s global Dive for Earth Day events. More than 235 collective events will take place in 60 countries around the world and we will make a local splash for this conservation celebration.

Each year, during the week of 22 April, divers and water enthusiasts worldwide make a splash for water conservation in partnership with Project AWARE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to underwater conservation. Earth Day began in the United States on 22 April 1970 to raise the status of environmental issues to the global stage. In 2000, Project AWARE began to help dive volunteers put aquatic issues on the Earth Day map. Since that time thousands of divers in 115 countries around the world have helped protect underwater environments and educate local communities each April.

Our Association will organize various events in Mahahual during this week: coral reef workshops and presentations for adults, AWARE Kids projects including school presentations, snorkeling and diving. The highlight of this week will be on Sunday the 27th with a local reef and beach cleanup.

Join and act with us on the 27th of April 2008 to celebrate Earth Day!

If you are a certified diver, please register before the 24th of April 2008 by email at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it or by phone 9831206458. Project AWARE Foundation is a registered nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving underwater environments through education, advocacy and action.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Belize's coral reef: gorgeous but threatened

From an article by Laura Bly of USA Today posted on ABC News:

HALF MOON CAYE NATURAL MONUMENT, Belize — Fifty feet below the Caribbean's sun-dappled surface, schools of navy blue tangs drift like smoke, their languid progress mirrored by the gentle waving of purple sea fans and yellow tube sponges. A hawksbill turtle chugs along a ledge studded with elkhorn and brain coral, oblivious to the gaggle of adoring scuba divers trailing in its wake.

From this comparatively pristine vantage point, it's easy to see why naturalist Charles Darwin declared this necklace of mangroves, seagrass and submerged coral, stretching more than 150 miles off the Belize coast, "the most remarkable reef in the West Indies."

But troubles at the Western Hemisphere's largest barrier reef, like those at other "underwater rain forests" scattered across the globe, run deep.

A potent mix of coastal development, tourism, overfishing, pollution and climate change has damaged an estimated 40% of the Belize reef system, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts more than a third of Belize's 850,000 annual visitors.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Armando Lorences: CEA Turtle Program Director

From an article posted on

On a recent trip to Akumal I had the opportunity to sit down with Armando Lorences, coordinator of the Turtle Protection Program at CEA. I have had the pleasure of knowing Armando since he first started at CEA, but this time I actually spent time asking him how it was that he became involved with turtles and dedicating his life to them.

This is the first in a series of profiles we will be doing for Given the seriousness of the plight of the sea turtles, the recent phenomena that has attacked the young turtles and with the beginning of turtle season just around the corner (May- November) we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share Armando's profile.

Armando grew up a long way from the shores of the Caribbean Sea, in Mexico City. He first came to the Maya Riviera 20 years ago to Playa Aventuras. Turtles were a fascination of his and so, as a hobby, he started to learn more about them and spent time with professionals who were paving the way in turtle protection. . . .

Eventually, Armando found himself at CEA, as the coordinator for the Turtle Protection Program. I asked him what he likes most about his new position. He explained, as much with facial and body expressions as in words, that it is what he sees happen to the volunteers that he enjoys the most. He said that when the volunteers first come he gives them the basic information and encourages them to explore and learn in their own manner but within the guidelines of turtle protection. He strongly believes that by allowing them to learn in ways that inspires each one of them, it allows the volunteers to be more involved and to want to share more thoughts and information. He considers this his luck – to be able to witness the growth and passion of these young people. The expectations are different for each volunteer. And through this program he has seen their ideas change. He loves working with them and being around people who share his passion.

The work these volunteers do is not easy and he appreciates the dedication and sees the passion as their reward. They often work all night in the rain and with the mosquitoes, at times the hours can seem like eternity and the work can be very boring. But through the 3 months that the volunteers work side by side they become true protectors. Armando is extremely aware of the important part they play by going back to their homes wanting to make a difference, committed to the protection and well being of the turtles and the entire Marine eco-system. They become ambassadors because the experience has been life altering and they leave changed and transformed from the experience. This is what brings Armando true job satisfaction, and the fact that the volunteers come from countries around the world is very encouraging to Armando.

I had to ask the obvious – what doesn't he like about his job. And after carefully considering his response he said it is that some people just don't seem to care. With all the information that is available there are still those who refuse to listen and continue to do things that harm the turtles. There is a certain level of frustration at trying to figure out just exactly how the information can get to the people in a way that will make them understand.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Caribbean governments urged to set climate action agenda

From an article by Andrea Downer posted on Environmental News Service:

KINGSTON, Jamaica, April 9, 2008 (ENS) - Regional scientists are calling on Caribbean governments to help develop an emerging research and action agenda that will prepare the islands for the effects of climate change.

A preliminary agenda was reached after three teams of scientists carried out extensive research on climate change scenarios and modeling, coastal, marine and terrestrial biodiversity in the region.

Fined tuned at a two-day workshop hosted by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Natural Resource Institute at the University of the West Indies, Mona, the agenda identifies gaps in existing capacity in the region to deal with the effects of climate change and outlines measures to correct those deficiencies. . . .

The preliminary agenda urges action on:

* Facilitating community involvement in the research process
* Fostering linkages between biodiversity conservation and traditional use
* Researching how to establish a regional system of protected areas that facilitate effective biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods under climate change/variability
* Research that moves from generating climate scenarios to projected impact on ecosystem services including socio-economic valuations
* Developing protocols and agreements for data sharing and access
* Developing a Caribbean climate atlas
* Investigating how key species will respond to changes in temperature
* Research on how to strengthen the resilience of regional ecosystems to adapt to climate change . . .


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The impact of human sewage on tropical oceans: What you can do

From an article by Rebecca V. Ferrell, PhD, Professor of Biology, Metropolitan State College of Denver, posted on Sac-Be:

A hallmark of tropical ecosystems is they are low in the nutrients needed by living creatures, like nitrogen and phosphorous, because those nutrients cycle very quickly and don’t linger in a usable form. Organic material breaks down rapidly in the warm climate, and plants quickly take up any nutrients that are released to fertilize their lush growth. The result of this enthusiastic growth is that the soil and water are usually low in nutrients. In cooler climates, nutrients like nitrogen or phosphorous might linger in the soil or water, but not in the tropics. Creatures of the tropics, like the reef-building corals, evolved in a world where nutrients were not abundant, and they are well adapted to this nutrient-poor environment.

Humans can change the balance of nutrients by disturbing soils for construction, by adding chemical fertilizers directly to soils, as we do when farming or maintaining golf courses, and by the release of our wastes in the form of sewage, which is very rich in nutrients. Recent human activities on the Riviera Maya have increased nutrient levels substantially, and these nutrients are a real threat to the coral reefs that protect the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. . . .

When nutrient levels go up, the tiny coral animals that build coral reefs feel the strain. Increasing levels of nitrogen, especially, cause algae to grow. Algae can grow right across the surface of a coral reef, blocking sunlight from reaching the coral animals underneath. . . .

There is much that can be done to protect this exquisite region from being loved to death by its visitors. For more than a decade, Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA, pronounced “SAY-ah”) has been a leader in this effort, with programs that focus on water quality and conservation of the area’s fragile resources. The first constructed sewage treatment wetlands were built at CEA in 1996 in cooperation with Mark Nelson. Dr. Nelson later was a designer of the wetlands in the Biosphere 2 project, and he was one of the “biospherians” who lived in that experimental closed system in Arizona designed to increase understanding of the complex functions that take place on planet Earth. That original sewage treatment wetland is still working well, removing bacteria and nutrients from wastewater, and a second CEA wetland provides excellent treatment for sewage from the public restrooms that serve the Turtle Bay and Cueva del Pescador restaurants and local shops, as well as housing for CEA volunteers. Many homeowners and hotels in the area have followed suit, constructing wetlands to remove nutrients before sewage is released; it is estimated that over 200 wetlands are in operation along the Riviera Maya, with more than 50 of these in the Akumal area.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Report on reefs around Utila (Bay Islands, Honduras)

Stephen Box, Managing Director, Utila Centre for Marine Ecology (UCME), posted the following report about Utila's reefs on NOAA's coral-list:

UCME is investigating a range of topics on the island including the fish populations, fishing pressure, coral health, algal dynamics, mangrove destruction and sea grass productivity.

Unfortunately, some of your observations are fairly accurate. Utila is struggling to balance development with sustainable resource management, as it moves from a fishing based economy to one largely reliant on tourism.

Honduras as a whole and the Bay Islands and Utila in particular are severely hindered by a lack of knowledge about their natural resources and the technical and financial capacity to effectively control and manage this transition.

This is one reason why UCME was established as a non-governmental organisation which could link scientific results from applied research to national authorities and community based conservation and management initiatives. . . .

Coral cover: Utila was hit hard in 1998 by a bleaching event and hurricane Mitch. This combination was likely responsible for a large amount of dead shallower corals (less than 10m) dominated by Montastraea annularis (mainly on the south side of the island). Since Ma is struggling to recruit across the Caribbean the ability for this to recover seems limited. As the cover of this major reef builder declines the space is increasingly being taken up by algae, likely hindering coral recovery further. In Utila this is augmented by the decreasing population of herbivorous grazers through by catch and removal of top predators, grouper etc (see below).

Utila is a classic example of the necessity for ecological balance on reef systems and the limited capacity of reefs to recover from major disturbances if their fish populations (and other key species) are removed.

On the north side of the island and on the outer banks and deeper reefs, coral cover is far healthier but their resilience is also likely to be severely degraded, they just haven?t been as impacted by external influences yet.

As for the extensive fishing . . .there are two main drivers for this... Export of grouper and snapper to the US; and increasing local demand due to migration to the island from the mainland.

Utila is a fishing hub for the export of grouper and snapper to the United States. Whilst U.S legislation is protecting U.S fish stocks it seems to be putting increasing pressure on the stocks of neighbouring countries such as Honduras that have limited capacity to manage their fisheries. This is an ongoing problem and we are now working with the fish plant here to devise a local management plan and some fundamental fishing best practices to try and abate the current trends. Fishing is still an important sector of the local economy and since the demand for fish remains constant and price high (in relation to local living costs) the fish stocks will continue to be heavily exploited until a solution can be found or they run out of fish.

The migration to the island due to the economic growth is attracting mainly low skilled labour from the mainland to work in construction (housing, hotels etc) since this labour force is also poorly paid they will often supplement their income and diet by fishing on local reefs.

The economic migration is also causing mangroves to be felled to clear the way for cheap housing in the swamps. At the other end of the spectrum large developers are increasingly clearing mangroves to make way for expatriate holiday homes, marinas, canals etc. Mangroves in the Bay Islands are protected by national and local law (it is illegal to cut them) but without the capacity or will to enforce this law the cutting continues. However to put this into context, the actual percentage of the mangroves that have been removed in this manor is still relatively small since the majority of the island's area (80%) is mangroves (see good images on google earth). But unless some effective enforcement of existing laws can be put in place I assume this proportion will increase steadily.

And finally, . . .sewage treatment. . . . Most houses currently have septic tanks, and the municipality are putting in a main sewage system and treatment plant, as I write, which is due to come on line later in the year. However many of the buildings along the water front still discharge sewage in to the water. Once again however this needs a contextual reference since the likely quantity of effluent is fairly small given the current population of the island versus the volume of water it is discharged into (ie the dilution). I am not saying that the current situation should be condoned rather that the current scale of that problem is likely not the biggest issue that the reefs are facing and one issue which local government are actually tackling. We have a project planned in the summer to evaluate water quality within the mangroves and adjacent reefs to be able to quantify exactly how much of a problem this currently is and to use as a baseline for when the treatment plant comes on line.

To summarise, Utila is suffering the same issues that many locations around the region are but its reefs and mangroves comparative to other areas are still in fairly good shape. The island is a microcosm for the good the bad and the human of coral reef and tropical island ecology which is what makes it a fascinating place to work and to study. If through our work here we can identify potential solutions to some of these pertinent issues it may well provide a great model for how small communities lacking in institutional governance can solve their reef management issues at a local level.

Stephen Box PhD
Managing Director
Utila Centre for Marine Ecology
Bay Islands


Monday, April 7, 2008

Help REEF with lionfish research at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas - May 11-17, 2008

Join a REEF expedition to study lionfish:

Over the past 15 months, REEF has led the charge in gathering research data on the recently established lionfish populations in the Bahamas. Working with dive operators Stuart Cove and Bruce Purdy to gather much needed data on age/growth, reproduction, prey preferences, behavior habitat preferences and population increases, REEF volunteers have collected over 1,000 lionfish for NOAA and Bahamian researchers. Data suggest a rapidly increasing population that reproduces regularly throughout the year and has few natural predators. This week-long collecting project will fill the final gap in a year-round study and enable completion of data analysis.

The focus of the week will be to document presence/absence of lionfish at specific sites near the west end of New Providence Island (Nassau), Bahamas. Working as part of a team, the divers will search for and collect previously tagged lionfish, collect and tag new specimens, document abundance of native reef fish at lionfish sites, help collect samples of lionfish for dissection to determine prey and reproduction, and learn about invasive species issues. Daily morning dives at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas will be followed by hands on afternoon dissections, lectures and discussions. Andy Dehart, General Manager of the National Aquarium in Washington DC, Chris Flook, Collector of Specimens for the Bermuda Zoo and Aquarium, and Ned and Ann DeLoach will all bring their perspectives and expertise to the project and be integral parts of the lionfish team.

The project cost is $999.92 per person and includes hotel accommodations at the Nassau Cable Beach Wyndham Resort and five days of two tank morning dives. For more information or to book space, please contact Pam Christman at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas at 800-879-9832 or For more info on REEF’s lionfish work, contact Lad Akins ( or (305) 942-7333.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Nicaragua's rich sea grass beds last stop for many endangered green turtles

From an article on the Web site of the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Sea turtles that receive the highest protection in Costa Rica and other neighboring countries are dying by the thousands at the hands of unregulated - and unsustainable - commercial fishing in Nicaragua, according to a study by the Bronx Zoo based Wildlife Conservation Society.

The study, appearing in the latest issue of the journal Herpetologica, found that turtles tagged in Nicaragua have only little more than a 50 percent chance of surviving until the next year. This includes adult turtles from Tortuguero, a world famous turtle-nesting beach in Costa Rica. For a slow-growing, slow-to-mature species, removing so many large juveniles and adults from the population spells potential disaster, according to WCS scientists. The largest remaining green turtle population in the Atlantic lives in this region, scientists believe.

"Green turtles cannot take this relentless pounding by the Nicaraguan sea turtle fishing industry," said WCS researcher Cathi Campbell, the lead author of the study. "Drastic reductions are needed in fishing levels, or both the turtles - and turtle fishers - will vanish within a matter of years."


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bonaire reefs not as pristine as widely believed

From an article in Explorations, the e-magazine of UC San Diego'sScripps Institution of Oceanography:

Bonaire's coral reefs widely considered to be in pristine condition are a popular tourist destination and regarded as one of the jewels of the Caribbean. Preliminary findings from a new science survey have indicated, however, that all is not as perfect as widely believed. . . .

The expedition was part of a series of events that kicked off the International Year of the Reef 2008, a global campaign intended to raise awareness of the value and importance of coral reefs, which are threatened in several locations around the world.

"Our findings are interesting, and also distinctly concerning," said [project co-leader James] Leichter. "Despite the perception and promotion of Bonaire as a site of 'pristine' reefs within the Caribbean, our preliminary analysis shows extensive areas of coral disease and mortality. The pace of development on Bonaire has increased dramatically in the past five to 10 years and issues of runoff from land and non-point sources of pollution appear to be quite critical."

Yet despite his concern, Leichter witnessed signs of resiliency. Populations of important grazing fishes are large and the researchers documented numerous small colonies of Acropora palmate, Acropora cervicornis, and Acropora prolifera, coral species key to building back a healthy reef framework.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

11th International Coral Reef Symposium

The 11th International Coral Reef Symposium will be held July 7-11 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida:

The aim of this conference is to identify the risks that currently threaten the safety and sustainability of these reefs, and what can be done on the part of humans to save these marvelous treasures.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Tear For Si'an Kaan (Plastics!)

This post comes from a blog named The Dream Antilles:

The Si'an Kaan Bio-reserve is 1.3 million acres of protected land in the State of Quintana Roo, Mexico, about 2 hours south of Cancun, near Tulum. "Sian Ka’an" is translated from Mayan as "where the sky is born" or "gift from the sky". I was there just a few days ago. . . .

I drove from Tulum down the Tulum-Boca Paila Beach Road all the way to Punta Allen, a small lobster and fishing village on a spit of land where the reserve ends and Asuncion Bay begins. Punta Allen is famous for sport fishing for permit, tarpon and bone fish.

All the way down the difficult, bumpy road, there are beautiful white sand, palm tree lined beaches. All the way down the coral reef shelters the land from direct contact with the ocean. All the way down there is spotless turquoise water reflecting a blue sky. The air is filled with birdsong. The water is filled with creatures.

Except one thing. The water isn't really spotless. And that's why I have a tear. I have a tear because there is too much plastic in paradise. And I cannot help but see it.

Some of the beaches that face the wind and the open sea are littered with plastic. All of the usual civilized species are there: blue plastic jugs, old shoes, plastic bags, bottles, packaging, plastic coke bottles, old nylon ropes, auto parts, light bulbs, sunscreen tubes. How so? Because nobody lives on a particular beach, nobody picks up the plastic on that beach. It's unlike the beach near my home, which gets a plastic pick up every Sunday from residents. It's unlike my beach because nobody takes responsibility for removing the plastic, for picking it up, for returning it to the appropriate stream for garbage. My home beach in Bahia Soliman is spotless. And it's spotless solely because my neighbors make sure it stays plastic free. This has been a decade long preoccupation for us. . . .

That's why I urge everyone who walk on a beach to carry a bag and to pick up some plastic and throw it in the garbage. Yes, I know this doesn't really solve anything permanently. It's just a start and a gesture in the right direction.

Until we begin to think about how we use plastic, we don't really deserve paradise as perfect, as abundant, as wild as Sian Ka'an.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Call for papers: International Marine Conservation Congress

From the Marine Section of the Society for Conservation Biology:

The Marine Section of the Society for Conservation Biology will be hosting its first stand-alone meeting, the International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC), from 20-24 May 2009 at George Mason University near Washington D.C. This will be an interdisciplinary meeting that will engage natural and social scientists, managers, policy-makers, and the public. The goal of the IMCC is to put conservation science into practice through public and media outreach and the development concrete products (e.g., policy briefs, blue ribbon position papers) that will be used to drive policy change and implementation. This meeting will encompass the 2nd International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC1 was held in Geelong, Australia in October 2005). The IMPAC2 component will consist of an organized cross cutting issue within the IMCC addressing MPAs though the full range of posters, papers, workshops and symposia.

IMCC encourages authors to submit papers that apply to the major themes and tracks below, describing original work, including methods, techniques, applications, tools, issues, reporting research results and/or indicating future directions.

Major themes that will be addressed include:
· Global Climate Change,
· Land-Sea Interface,
· Ecosystem-based Management, and
· Poverty and Globalization

Cross-cutting issues encompass topics of global relevance and importance to marine conservation that relate to the major themes.
Cross cutting issues include:
- Marine Protected Areas
- Education, Outreach and Capacity Building
- Governance Arrangements
- Fisheries and Aquaculture
- Economics
Full details on the conference and submitting papers are on the IMCC Web site.

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