Friday, October 31, 2008

Not too late to save reefs, says CORAL

In response to reports on an earlier study that said reefs cannot be saved, the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) responded with a media release:

. . . CORAL's Conservation Programs Director Rick MacPherson is less pessimistic.

Chemical oceanographers Long Cao and Ken Caldeira looked at the effect of global CO2 emissions on our oceans. As CO2 saturates in the ocean, the net effect is more acidic seawater and greater difficulty for corals to build and maintain their calcium-based exoskeletons. Caldeira said the affected reefs would not disappear straight away, but the change in water chemistry would leave them vulnerable to attack, bleaching, or disease. He further summarized that "the likelihood [coral reefs] will be able to persist is pretty small."

However, a consensus of the world's leading coral reef scientists at the recent International Coral Reef Symposium focused on possibilities rather than gloomy predictions. The scientific forum held every four years addressed not only the issue of acidification, but also the impacts that increased ocean temperatures and rising sea levels will have on reefs. "Those in attendance agreed that the demise of coral reefs is not a foregone conclusion," said MacPherson. "Though time is running out, building resilience through large networks of marine protected areas will be key in securing the future of coral reefs."

CORAL acknowledges that reefs are in for tough times as society grapples with the climate issue. Moreover, ongoing research is required to understand how climate will affect the complex processes that underlie reef ecosystems. "Our concern is the finality of the recent study," said Brian Huse, CORAL's Executive Director. "Cao and Caldeira have written the post mortem while the patient is still alive. There are currently a large number of conservation projects worldwide that get to the heart of building resilience to climate impacts—and many are already showing positive results. . . ."


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Video shows destructive side of Jamaica's tourism industry

From an article by Dawn Marie Roper posted on the Environment News Service:

KINGSTON, Jamaica, October 28, 2008 (ENS) - The Jamaica Environmental Trust on Thursday night launched "Jamaica for Sale," a 92 minute video documentary highlighting disturbing issues behind the island's normally rosy sun, sea and sand tourism image.

"We want to raise hard questions about the tourism industry, especially in light of the recent rise in a certain kind of tourism. There are costs. We are asking questions about these costs," said Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of Jamaica Environmental Trust.

The video features the faces and voices of Jamaicans and other Caribbean personalities talking about life in the wake of a burst of construction of mega-hotels across Jamaica's coastline. The film shows how gains from tourism development come at a high price to the people.

"Government is selling of beaches and sometimes entire islands. This cuts off local citizens from having a say in what happens around them," said Mimi Sheller, a sociologist from Swarthmore College in the United States.

The film features small hoteliers and other citizens talking about the wide scale removal of the mangroves, wetlands and the breeding grounds of indigenous birds and turtles.

Early in the film, construction workers detail the ill-treatment and low wages they receive from the Spanish hotel developers. . . .

{This report is republished with permission from The Panos Institute of the Caribbean.}


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

U.S. rules provide greater protection from human threats to two coral species

From a media release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, October 29, 2008 --/WORLD-WIRE/-- The federal government today finalized a rule prohibiting activities that kill or harm elkhorn and staghorn corals, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The new rule, published in the Federal Register by the National Marine Fisheries Service, extends the full protections provided under the Act to these imperiled corals that are disappearing off the coast of Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, elkhorn and staghorn corals in 2006 became the first species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act due to the threat of global warming and ocean acidification. Once the most abundant and important reef-building corals in Florida and the Caribbean, staghorn and elkhorn corals have declined by upwards of 90 percent in many areas, mainly as a result of disease and “bleaching,” an often-fatal stress response to abnormally high water temperatures in which corals expel the symbiotic algae that give them color. The rising ocean temperature caused by global warming and the related threat of ocean acidification resulting from the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide are the greatest threats to these two coral species and coral reefs worldwide. Scientists have predicted that most of the world’s coral reefs will disappear by mid-century unless carbon dioxide emissions are greatly reduced.

“Our coral reefs are disappearing faster than you can say ‘global warming,’ ” said Miyoko Sakashita, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is undeniable that corals need the strongest protections available. We need to take action on every threat that we can manage. Today’s protective regulations are an important step forward in a race to prevent the extinction of our coral reefs.”

The new rule prohibits anyone from “taking” the threatened corals, which includes harassing, harming, or killing them.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

CO2 curbs may be too late for reefs, study warns

From an article by in The Guardian (UK):

A new global deal on climate change will come too late to save most of the world's coral reefs, according to a US study that suggests major ecological damage to the oceans is now inevitable.

Emissions of carbon dioxide are making seawater so acidic that reefs including the Great Barrier Reef off Australia could begin to break up within a few decades, research by the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University in California suggests. Even ambitious targets to stabilise greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, as championed by Britain and Europe to stave off dangerous climate change, still place more than 90% of coral reefs in jeopardy.

Oceanographers Long Cao and Ken Caldeira looked at how carbon dioxide dissolves in the sea as human emissions increase. About a third of carbon pollution is soaked up in this way, where it reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid. Experts say human activity over the last two centuries has produced enough acid to lower the average pH of global ocean surface waters by about 0.1 units.

Such acidification spells problems for coral reefs, which rely on calcium minerals called aragonite to build and maintain their exoskeletons.

"We can't say for sure that [the reefs] will disappear but ... the likelihood they will be able to persist is pretty small," said Caldeira.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Florida Keys Sea Turtle Workshop Weekend, Dec. 6-7

A post on the forum of

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL, is hosting the annual Florida Keys Sea Turtle Workshop Weekend December 6th and 7th, 2008.

This workshop gathers people together from all over the world, who work with sea turtles in the medical, rehabilitation, captive and long term care fields and provides a forum to share ideas, procedures, cases and techniques.

The first day will consist of a series of lectures designed to communicate ideas between sea turtle care facilities.

Day two will consist of two wet labs at The Turtle Hospital. One lab will be “Sea Turtle Necropsy and Proper Biopsy/Sampling Collecting” with Dr. Brian Stacy from the University of Florida. The second lab will be with Dr. Douglas Mader and Dr. Jeanette Wyneken and focus on anatomy/physiology of sea turtles.

Registration for this event is limited to individuals that work directly with sea turtle care, husbandry, and medicine. To request information for the event please email Ryan Butts at We hope to see you all in December!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thieves steal sand from Caribbean beaches

From an Associated Press story posted on Fox News:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Ahh, the Caribbean. Sun, surf. But where's the sand?

It is disappearing at alarming rates as thieves feed a local construction boom.

Caribbean round grains, favored in creating smooth surfaces for plastering and finishing, are being hauled away by the truckload late at night. On some islands not much bigger than Manhattan, towns and ecologically sensitive areas are now exposed to tidal surges and rough seas.

In Puerto Rico, thieves once mined the dunes in the northern coastal town of Isabela, said Ernesto Diaz of the Department of Natural Resources. But now they are stealing the beaches of the tiny island of Vieques — 52 square miles where the U.S. military only recently halted its controversial bombing practice.

Among the hardest hit is Grenada, where officials are building a $1.2 million seawall to protect the 131-square-mile island. Large-scale sand thefts have exposed north-coast towns to rough seas, said Joseph Gilbert, the minister of works and environment.

One of the region's largest sand thefts targeted Jamaica, where nearly 100 truckloads were swiped from private property in the northwest, exposing protected mangroves and a limestone forest to wind and waves.

Roughly 706,000 cubic feet of sand were taken in late July, enough to fill roughly 10 Olympic-sized pools, said Jamaica Mines Commissioner Clinton Thompson, who suspects government officials were involved.

"I was surprised at the amount," he said. "This one could not have been stolen without persons knowing about it."

Police have refused to comment on their investigation.

Illegal sand mining in the Caribbean began in the 1970s, when people with shovels stole small amounts to build homes mostly made of wood. But the thefts increased as builders switched to concrete and have only gotten bigger with the rise in construction of resorts and hotels — built, ironically, for tourists drawn by the Caribbean's immaculate beaches. An estimated 80 new hotels and resorts are expected to open in the Caribbean through 2012, according to Smith Travel Research.

Some islands offer local quarries or designate certain beaches for mining, but large-scale nighttime thefts persist despite police patrols. Front loaders and other heavy equipment are now used instead of shovels to steal sand, which sells for nearly $200 for 1 cubic yard.

"If we continue to mine the beaches the way we've been doing, we will have no sand to boast about. Just sea and sun," Gilbert said.

No one knows how much sand in all has been carted away, but the islands of Tortola, Anguilla and St. Vincent are now vulnerable to flooding, said Gillian Cambers, associate researcher at the University of Puerto Rico. Up to two-thirds of sand dunes in Tortola and Nevis have been decimated, she added.

On Grenada's 13-square-mile Carriacou island, population 6,000, the beach is shrinking by 3 linear feet every year from illegal sand mining, Gilbert said. . . .


Lifestyles of loggerheads

A short entertaining film, with a bit of a down side (plastics), on the first few hours and days in the lives of loggerhead turtles.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Save the reef; eat a lionfish

From an article by Jacqui Goddard from The Times (London):

When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, no one gave much thought to the six exotic lionfish that spilt into Biscayne Bay as the storm smashed their Miami waterfront aquarium.

Sixteen years later, thousands of the fish are wreaking havoc off America's east coast, leading a potentially catastrophic marine invasion.

The highly poisonous hunter-killer, which is normally found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, is the first non-native fish to establish itself in the Atlantic, where it is eating its way through other species faster than they can breed.

“They are eating almost anything that fits in their mouths,” said Lad Akins, director of special projects for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (Reef). There could be, he added, “a severe impact across our entire marine ecosystem”.

With its needle-sharp spines and red and white stripes, the lionfish's hunting prowess is enhanced by the fact that other fish find them so baffling. “They kind of resemble a big clump of seaweed. Native fish don't see them as predators, or even as other fish,” said Mark Hixon, a coral reef ecology expert at Oregon State University. “That allows them to approach other fish and just slurp them up. . . .”

Scientists are looking at why the lionfish is reproducing more rapidly in the Atlantic than in its native waters, hoping to identify a predator to keep numbers in check.

Reef is working on another solution: educating fishermen in how to catch them, and restaurants in how to prepare and serve them. “Lionfish are very edible,” said Mr Akins. “In fact, they are quite delicious.”


Monday, October 20, 2008

Grouper Moon Project to expand in the Cayman Islands.

A project description from

Normally solitary and territorial, during the winter full moons grouper travel, sometimes over great distances, and “group” together to spawn. About fifty of these spawning aggregations sites have been recorded in different places throughout the Caribbean. Historically, once discovered, grouper aggregation sites have become synonymous with fisherman aggregation sites. Due to the timing and site fidelity of the spawning aggregations and the ease with which these relative loners can be caught while congregating by the hundreds and thousands to spawn, one-third to one-half of the known Caribbean aggregation sites are now inactive. The Cayman Islands used to be home to five Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) spawning sites. Today, four of these sites are dormant or depleted. But one site, on the west end of Little Cayman Island, is home to one of the last great reproductive populations of this endangered species.

In the Winter of 2002, REEF launched a ground breaking expedition to the Cayman Islands - the Grouper Moon Project. The Project’s objectives were to observe the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation off the western tip of Little Cayman, and to develop a protocol for monitoring their numbers and activity at the site. For two weeks, a team of divers from REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment visited the aggregation site and nearby reefs. Since that first year, REEF has coordinated annual efforts to monitor and study the Little Cayman Nassau grouper aggregation. The project has grown in scope to include an ambitious acoustic tagging research project, juvenile habitat and genetics studies, and early results have been published in the scientific literature. . . .

Thanks to a three-year grant from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF and our collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) and Oregon State University (OSU) will greatly expand the conservation science research being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands. The funded research, broadly titled as "The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management" will evaluate the potential for spawning site MPAs to recover Nassau grouper stocks.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Microdocs: Ground truthing in the Bahamas

A project at Stanford University creates microdocs (micro-documentaries) on topics dealing with coral reefs, including a video on "ground truthing," which the site describes this way:

Satellites reveal many objects on the Earth’s exterior from their vantage point in space, but until recently they’ve never been able to accurately detail what is BENEATH the surface of the ocean. In this film, a team of scientists ‘ground truth’ an innovative use of satellite imagery to produce a new and groundbreaking research tool.

Researchers compare estimates of coral cover calculated from satellite images to what is actually present in the environment. Verifying this satellite image data makes this research tool, and any conclusions drawn from it, much more robust.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Real men don't need turtle eggs

From CasaTortuga:

Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatán's Sea Turtle Conservation Program focuses on the conservation of marine turtles in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. There are seven species of marine turtles in the word, six of which are found in Mexican waters. Four sea turtle species—the hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback and green turtle—can be found in the Yucatán Peninsula. Mexico is a popular region for conservation efforts, as it is both a favorable area for nesting and feeding for juvenile and adult turtles. As of May 28th, 1990, President Carlos Salina de Gortari signed an executive order declaring an end to Mexico's sea turtle industry. There is now a penalty of up to nine years in jail for anyone caught killing or capturing the turtle. Mexico also started a promotional campaign to help protect the turtle after 80 Olive Ridley sea turtles were found chopped to pieces on Escobilla beach in Oaxaca, Mexico. The poachers were believed to be after turtle eggs, thought to be an aphrodisiac. The poster reads, “My man doesn't need turtle eggs. Because he knows they don't make him more potent.” See the advertisement here.

Pronatura's main objectives are to ensure nesting success of female turtles by nightly patrols, assess the reproductive health of the nesting population and to contribute information for the management and conservation of sea turtles.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Become a REEF Check diver

From the Web site of REEF Check:

Become certified to conduct your own Reef Check surveys and take an active role in conserving your favorite coral reefs. This course is designed to teach you everything you need to know to conduct full scale Reef Check surveys. In this program you will learn all about the globally standardized Reef Check methodology as well as how to identify key indicator fish, invertebrates and substrates selected by Reef Check for global monitoring and conservation of coral reefs! Sound like a lot? It is! But all those who have taken the course have fully enjoyed every last bit. This course will allow you to join the Reef Check monitoring team and assist in underwater surveys around the world.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Meros Gigantes Protegidos (Goliath Grouper)

A nice video in Spanish about the Goliath Grouper.

On the NOAA's Coral listserve, the producer wrote about the video and added a funny note about the high TV rating it racked up:

Here is a 4-minute newspiece I co-produced for Telemundo TV-Miami, on the conservation of goliath grouper . . . .

The effort illustrates two important concepts I learned at this years's ICRS science-media session:

1) Allow the audience to identify with the science story. Here, romance bajo la luna (moonlight romance) referring to the spawning aggregations during full moon.

2) Hope that the final product (after journalist input and editors) will get the message mostly right. You can see some bloopers in the journalist story, but again mostly right....

Production team: marine biologist, Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres; cameraman Clemente Atia; reporter Ivan Taylor
Broadcast: Telemundo-Miami TV, noticiero-11 pm, Tuesday 30 October 2008

This newspiece, which was aired at the end of the noticiero (daily news) 11 pm Tuesday October 30, had some of the highest ratings in Telemundo-Miami history. Since there is no Paris Hilton or Britney Spears in the video, I would like to think it was due to the awesome work of the production team. However, as I discovered in a crash course with the Telemundo co-producers, TV ratings depend on what was broadcast prior to the actual segment being rated, as well as the ability to hold viewer?s attention in the transition from one program to the next.

From Monday through Friday, the program prior to the daily 11 pm news is the telenovela, ?sin senos no hay paraiso? [without breasts there is no paradise]. I will refrain from elaborating more on the content of the program, but this telenovela is a great hit right now. Traditionally, the audience changes stations en masse once the daily episode ends, and avoid the news program.

The main producer told me to come up with a "lead line" that will entice the audience to stay tunned until the end of the news program, where the grouper video was going to air. As you already know, female groupers have no breasts, so connecting the telenovela with the groupers proved to be quite a challenge. I proposed the following lead line (which was actually broadcast... but not shown on you tube video): "Next, what if each time you make love you risk death??" [?...a continuacion, que pasaria si cada vez que haces el amor arriesgas la muerte??]

With this lead line I wanted to illustrate that the behavioral trait of forming spawning aggregations (shared by groupers and many other reef fish) and people targeting those aggregations has been one of the major factors driving overfishing and aggregation extinctions.

Obviously, we'll never know whether the audience was expecting to see the fate of one of the telenovela characters, or a report on a new STD?. The fact is that the grouper video was delivered.

Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D.
Marine Conservation Biologist
Ocean Research and Conservation Association, Fort Pierce, Florida USA


Monday, October 13, 2008

Spotlight on Sergio Sandoval of Cozumel's Aquatic Sports

From an article on the Web site of the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL):

It’s not enough to cite scientific studies about the effects of climate change on coral reefs. Sergio Sandoval . . . wants to see “the real facts…show me what’s really going on underwater.” A mechanical engineer turned dive operator, Sergio has been photographing the reefs of Cozumel every day for almost four decades. He has witnessed increasing damage to his local reefs from issues related to climate change as well as rising pollution, overfishing, and staggering increases in tourism. According to Sergio, “There have been big changes in thirty-seven years of diving and we have to protect our reefs today!”

Providing dive, snorkeling, and fishing services through his company, Aquatic Sports, Sergio integrates subtle lessons about conservation and responsible marine practices into everything he does. Rather than giving his clients a list of no-nos, Sergio’s approach encourages people to help him care for Cozumel’s beautiful reefs. “You have to be positive,” Sergio claims. “Don’t tell people what they can’t do. Tell them how they can help. The way we treat people is the way we—and the reef—will be treated in return.”


Friday, October 10, 2008

Restoring coastal dunes

A volunteer at Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA) plants sea grapes as part of CEA's effort to restore the dunes along Akumal Bay.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Vote to save your favorite fish that you like to eat

From the Ocean Conservancy:

Americans will be going to the polls in all fifty states this November to pick a new president, vice president, and Congress. But starting today and throughout the election season, Americans of all political stripes can cast their vote for protecting their favorite fish from overfishing and other environmental dangers. Depending on whether voters prefer shrimp cocktail to tuna steaks, this could get every bit as heated and closely fought as the ongoing presidential campaign.

Ocean Conservancy, via the website, has opened the polls for FishVote08, the first ever conservation program directed simply by taste. Seafood lovers, along with environmental advocates and conservation minded individuals, can now elect a favorite from six "candidate" fish, and participate in a coordinated campaign to make their favorite seafood more sustainable.

Voters can choose between: red snapper, black grouper, cod, tuna, shrimp, or salmon. The FishVote08 website highlights the environmental hazards these fish currently face and what Ocean Conservancy and the public can do to help.

"Many seafood lovers face a difficult choice when told to stop eating their favorite seafood because it’s unsustainable. FishVote08 gives seafood lovers another option - working together to fix problems and make their favorite fish sustainable." said Mark Powell, Ocean Conservancy’s vice president for sustainability partnerships. "Ocean Conservancy wants to help seafood lovers work together to turn every fish into a sustainable fish. Let’s fix the problems instead of just walking away - it’s a solution that’s as American as apple pie."

Ocean Conservancy has decades of experience working with fisherman and fishery managers to restore troubled fisheries. With growing interest among consumers in seafood sustainability, the time is right to help seafood buyers invest in securing a productive future for their favorite seafood.

Consumers represent one of the most powerful segments of the population since they’re the ultimate customers of every fishery and seafood business. Ocean Conservancy believes that seafood lovers should not simply walk away from seafood in peril but rather commit to fixing the problem.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Ocean expert helps scientists speak plain English

From a story by Jeff Barnard on

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Besides keeping tabs on how global warming is changing the world's oceans, Jane Lubchenco — one of the world's leading marine biologists — is teaching her fellow scientists to drop the academic-ese they use among themselves and speak so regular folks can understand them.

Lubchenco is a member of the Pew Oceans Commission that recommended steps to overcome crippling damage to the world's oceans from overfishing, pollution, coastal development and climate change.

She is also founder of the Leopold Leadership Program, named for conservationist and author Aldo Leopold. It puts 20 scientists from colleges and universities through a communications boot camp.

"The philosophy behind it is that a key role of science is to inform people's understanding and decisions. Not to dictate those decisions, but to inform them," Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology and zoology at Oregon State University in Corvallis, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

The first week of the boot camp is low-key in a retreat setting. The second is in Washington, D.C., where the scientists go through simulated press interviews and congressional hearings.

"Most of them won't even return journalists' phone calls because they're afraid of them," Lubchenco said of scientists. "They don't want journalists misquoting them."

She said that when scientists talk about their research, they "typically start with history, methods, materials, who did what in the field." Then they describe their experiments, "and only at the end get to their conclusion."

But scientists are beginning to see "that's not a very useful way of communicating with people who want to know first and foremost what is the bottom line, why should I care, and is this relevant," she said.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Job board maintains a job board with positions in countries around the world.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bahamas proposes full ban on turtle harvesting

From a post on the listserve CTURTLE@LISTS.UFL.EDU:

For the past few years, CCC and a handful of groups working in The Bahamas has been urging Bahamian leaders to revise their arcane laws regarding sea turtle harvesting. Despite declining numbers of several species being targeted, particularly loggerheads, hawksbills and leatherbacks, there still has been an open season on sea turtles there.

Today, the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources announced that as of April 1, 2009, sea turtles will be fully protected in The Bahamas!

Hopefully, the action taken today by The Bahamas will encourage other island nations around the Caribbean to toughen their own laws regarding turtle harvesting.

I want to thank all of you who signed on to petitions and sent your own letters to Bahamian leaders. Together, we have achieved an important victory in the effort to protect and recover sea turtle populations in the Wider Caribbean.

It is very important to please take a moment and congratulate the Minister and his team at the Ministry for this long awaited positive move for the conservation of sea turtles. Send notes to: The Honourable Minister Larry Cartwright (LARRYCARTWRIGHT@BAHAMAS.GOV.BS).

David Godfrey
Executive Director
Caribbean Conservation Corporation
And then a clarification in another post on the list serve:

There is certainly encouraging news coming out of The Bahamas, and, after working with The Bahamas National Trust and the Department of Fisheries (now Marine Resources) for several decades, we are very pleased with the progress.

However, The Bahamas government has NOT YET declared that sea turtles will be fully protected as of 1 April 2009. They have announced PROPOSED regulations that will protect all sea turtles from commercial harvest, purchase, or sale as of 31 December 2008 and give sea turtles full protection as of 1 April 2009. These proposed regulations are now open for public comment. We believe that protection from commercial harvest is almost certain. However, because of the cultural traditions of subsistence living in The Bahamas, the full protection as of 1 April 2009 is not as certain.

We encourage you to send in comments. If you have visited or plan to visit The Bahamas, you should include that information. Public comments should be addressed to:

The Director
Department of Marine Resources
Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources
P. O. Box N-3028
Nassau, N. P.,
Bahamas, or
Email: ,or
Fax: (242)-393-0238

Best wishes,
Karen Bjorndal and Alan Bolten

Want to post?
Ed Blume, a volunteer for Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA), moderates the blog. Anyone wishing to post can contact Ed at

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