Dr. Cervino and his son, Finny, enjoy some time on the beach near their home
Dr. James M. Cervino
Pace University & Visiting Scientist
Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst.
Department of Marine Chemistry
Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Diving since 1979 with 2000+ dives
PADI Advanced Diver
Dr. Cervino is a coral health-physiologist and pathologist at the
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute where he is currently
a visiting scientist. His research focus is on the links between coral diseases and global warming. His
laboratory work explores using coral cell lines to understand cancer mechanisms.
Dr. Cervino received his undergraduate degree at New York University with a BA in Primatology/Earth Science.
He earned a Masters Degree from Boston University's Marine Program and completed his PhD at the University
of South Carolina doing his thesis work on coral disease mechanisms.
Along with his ongoing research at Woods Hole Inst., he is an assistant professor of
Biological & Environmental Sciences at Pace University where he teaches classes on climate change.
James special interests when diving are corals, Bi-Valves, planktonic communities, microbial diversity
and eel grass.
Dr. Cervino is eminently qualified to offer his opinion and observations on the status of coral reef ecosystems.
On a recent scientific expedition to the Indo-Pacific, Dr. Cervino was fortunate enough to spend time and
conduct research at Wakatobi Dive Resort in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. Upon completion of his studies
he offered this letter to Lorenz Mäeder, Wakatobi Founder and Director of Operations.
March 24th 2009.
As a marine scientist focused on coral health and disease, I was fortunate enough to spend time and conduct
research at Wakatobi Dive Resort in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. These coral reefs are located in the
epicenter of coral biodiversity, and are among the very few locations within the tropics that have been
unharmed by global warming. This is due in part to its distinct location and the unique oceanographic conditions
that bring cool, upwelled water to the surface. I am writing this letter approximately four years since my last
trip to Wakatobi, and since then, I have continued to research coral health throughout the Caribbean and Pacific.
The high diversity of corals, optimal coral health, and wide variety of reef and fin-fish in Wakatobi
is superior to any other location I have visited in the tropics, and my research has taken me to many,
many reefs during the past 20 years. Part of this localized success is due to the educational and
environmental protection efforts put forth by the owners and eco-operators at the Wakatobi Dive Resort.
Wakatobi has an almost pristine coral reef framework at all diving locations, which far exceeds what one
could imagine. I can assure prospective visitors to Wakatobi that the coral reefs are worth seeing, and
I urge my fellow scientists to visit this location in the next decade so that they can get an idea of
what the reefs appeared like 150 years ago.
This location serves as my control site (healthy study site, providing a model for what a flourishing reef
looks like. Tropical corals are very sensitive to environmental stress, and the pristine corals surrounding
Wakatobi provide an optimal baseline for scientists to compare with locations where corals are suffering
from global warming and land sources of pollution. In short, this is what a healthy and vibrant coral reef
should look like.
In large part, the health of these reefs is due to the care and respect the resort's owners have for the
surrounding coastal zones. The Wakatobi Dive resort is the only one on the island,
and they have created a truly sustainable development scheme that protects the coral habitat.
Only a handful of operators and owners around the world understand the sensitivity of the habitat
they are coexisting with, and Wakatobi's leaders are among them. A few simple, logical steps were taken
during the early stages of the development.
Among them: instituting a waste-water treatment system that uses biological recycling treatments
to prevent nutrients from getting into the water. Evidence that this simple technology is working
can be seen during a three-minute walk along the beach. Healthy and productive eel grass populations
surround the entire resort and appeared to be in excellent condition as of my visit. These marine
plants are very sensitive and can easily become smothered in algae if nutrient concentrations are
excessively high, as occurs in many waterfront resorts where treated sewage water is piped back
into the ocean. A similarly positive sign - or lack thereof - is that invasive algae species are
absent from surrounding beaches, eel grass beds and corals. This lack of invasive algae - which
also smother corals -- is scientific proof that Wakatobi Dive Resort's nutrient recycling plan
Thank you for your continued commitment to a healthy marine environment.
Dr. James M. Cervino
With A Little Help From Microbes, Wakatobi Dive Resort
Safeguards its Reefs From Coral-Smothering Algae
During a recent scientific analysis of coral reef health within a small Southeast Sulawesi island chain,
we became aware of one resort - the world-renowned 'Wakatobi Dive Resort' - that has managed to control
a ferocious coral killer known as macro-algae. This is a hugely significant accomplishment considering
that weedy algae are every reef's nightmare, smothering and killing corals and inhibiting the establishment
of new baby corals to replace them.
Almost every dive resort in the tropics economically benefits from the vibrant corals along their coastline,
yet the overwhelming majority of resort owners are unable to prevent their reefs from becoming at least
partially smothered with macro-algae. One problem is that nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and
sewage eventually leach underground and out onto the coral reefs, and these are the very nutrients that
fuel algal growth. Coral reefs function best in low-nutrient waters, so this is a serious dilemma. Another
problem is fishing on the very reefs that tourists come to see. Indeed, the tourists may literally be
eating other peoples' dive vacations. In addition to removing the big predators so exciting to encounter
on a dive, fishing can cause a reduction in the herbivores that keep the reef clean and coral-covered by
eating weedy algae. A noticeable increase in nutrient pollution and decrease in herbivores may be occurring
at many dive resorts, causing increased coral mortality and decreased biodiversity.
At Wakatobi Dive Resort, where the reefs are among the world's most diverse and pristine, Founder and
President Lorenz Mäder and colleagues developed a simple method to prevent the wastewater nutrients
from reaching the reef. Mäder, who studied biology before entering the dive industry, knew he could
fight the problem by reducing nutrients in the wastewater to an extremely low level before it enters
the ocean. The Resort management designed a three-tank decomposing system in which each tank contains
a variety of decomposing bacteria, and the wastewater flows between the tanks in stages. In the first
and second tanks, the wastewater is exposed to gravel and decomposing bacteria, allowing for oxidation
(breakdown) of the waste. In the third tank, the waste is broken down further, lowering the nutrient
concentration. The waste is then flowing into a leach field 50 meters from the beach, where tropical
trees and plants happily consume the nutrients and thereby keep them off the reef. Guests cannot
even tell that the leach field exists, since it has grown into a lush garden and emits no odor.
Divers at Wakatobi can see for themselves that the system is working: the sea grasses and corals
directly in front of the resort are free of this smothering algae, our analysis showed.
This straightforward and effective method could be applied in dive resorts worldwide to preserve their
reefs from one of many coral killers including man induced dynamite and cyanide fishing. The team at
Wakatobi prides itself for developing an environmentally sustainable relationship with the local peoples
on the island. Lorenz has provided free electricity for local residents - in return they honor an
established fish breeding and reef sanctuary at the resort island and refrain from cyanide and dynamite
fishing in the whole area.
Due to the implementation of protected areas from destructive fishing methods, proper land use management
and no-take fishing zones, the diversity of reef fishes remains high at Wakatobi. Recently, Les Kaufman
of the Boston University Marine Program in Woods Hole, MA, visited Wakatobi as part of a National
Geographic team. Les reports that the Wakatobi reefs "are among the most beautiful and pristine that
I have ever been privileged to study. In a single two-hour dive I counted 301 species of reef fishes
just a few finflips from the dock, meaning that Wakatobi Dive Resort's house reef has one of the most
diverse reef fish communities on earth right at its doorstep. Coral and seagrass communities are in
excellent condition for being so close to several villages and a luxurious dive resort. Wakatobi is a
beacon in the industry, warning others away from the rocks on which less thoughtful enterprises have
met their doom."
Dr. James M. Cervino