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Marine Biotechnology in the Twenty-First Century: Problems, Promise, and Products
fraction of these species have been explored as a source of biomedical compounds (Fenical, 1996). New avenues for the commercial development of marine-derived compounds may further enhance the use of coral reef resources and contribute to the global economy. However, it is critical that a new paradigm is established that maximizes coral reef conservation efforts while promoting sustainable use.
Despite a significant human dependence on and concerns for coral reef ecosystems, compelling scientific evidence indicates that current human use and allocation of reef resources are threatening both the ecological and the social sustainability of these ecosystems. Increased harvest pressure is being placed on reef resources to supply subsistence fisheries as well as a growing international demand for reef species for food, traditional medicines, and ornaments. Unfortunately, few countries have sufficient knowledge, financial resources, or technical expertise to develop management plans for the sustainable harvest of reef species, and organisms are often extracted unsustainably for short-term economic gains. Although several coral reef species have yielded potential therapeutic agents, concern about adequate supply for preclinical and clinical studies is a critical issue in the development of new biomedical products. Many of the suitable reef species have a limited distribution or occur at a low biomass. Also, individuals often contain only trace amounts of the desired compounds; the low yield requires the harvest of substantial biomass, which may lead to depletion of natural populations (Creswell, 1995). Many species extinctions are predicted in the coming decades in response to increasing pressure from human activities and natural disturbances, and the pharmacological potential of coral reefs may be lost. The continued, largely unregulated, and unsustainable extraction of reef species may have consequences that extend far beyond the overexploitation of these organisms, as their removal may also affect associated species and communities, ecological processes, and even entire ecosystems that are critical to the overall health of the oceans.
To guarantee a continual source of coral reef organisms for biomedical research that can provide new medicines far into the future, resource managers need to ensure that harvest pressure does not contribute to the global decline of coral reefs. The first and foremost step to address sustainable harvest of reef species involves a shift from traditional, single-species fishery management approaches to an ecosystem approach that integrates the needs of the species, the environment, and society. Existing management approaches, which were developed primarily for food-fish species, typically involve managing individual species with little consideration of fishing im-