Collectors of marine organisms may need only a scientific permit (as in Canada) or the equivalent to harvest samples for screening. While local divers may be paid to help with collections, more often than not there is little or no community involvement in the collection process, and no requirement for community consent. Areas where collections take place are generally outside traditional community boundaries, although the recognized rights of some indigenous communities (as in Fiji) may extend to offshore waters and the seabed. Indigenous groups involved in negotiations for land and resource rights (as in western Canada) may claim similar rights. Dependence on local knowledge of marine organisms is less likely to be a factor than in collection of fish genetic resources, simply because communities may have no traditional uses for, or may even be unaware of the existence of, marine organisms far beyond the shore. However, as illustrated in Box 1.8, traditional medicinal uses of some aquatic animals and plants are not uncommon.
Requirements for collection permits are likely to become more stringent with the development of national access and biodiversity conservation laws. However, as many species of marine organisms are not endemic to particular countries, collectors can avoid regulatory requirements by moving their operations to more 'friendly' countries. This is one reason why countries such as those in the ASEAN have adopted a regional approach to the implementation of access laws.
Given the cost and time involved in collection, and the abundance of marine organisms in many countries, payments for access to genetic resources have typically been low to date. It was estimated in 1991 that the total revenue likely to be received by developing countries seeking royalties for unimproved genetic material of any kind, terrestrial or aquatic, could be less than US$100 million annually (Barton, 1991, cited by Reid et al, 1993). In the pharmaceutical industry, royalties paid for samples with unknown clinical activity have amounted only to 1 to 5 per cent of net sales. Nevertheless, while the relative amount involved may be low, the scale of revenues generated in the pharmaceutical industry means that even a small share of net profits can produce extremely large revenues for a developing country once a product has been developed and marketed (Reid et al,
In the 1990s, Shaman Pharmaceuticals, operating in the botanicals field, announced a 'reciprocity' programme that would return benefits to indigenous communities from which samples had been collected. The company expressed a commitment to provide various types of benefits regardless of whether a marketable product was developed or whether indigenous knowledge was essential for product development (Bierer et al, 1996). Other companies have found Shaman's innovation too risky to adopt. Typically, very few returns from drug development trickle down to indigenous and local communities where collections are made.
Box 1.8 Medicinal Uses of Aquatic Plants and Animals
Although we have said that local knowledge does not have the same importance for aquatic genetic resources as it does for terrestrial, medicinal properties of aquatic plants and animals certainly exist. Many aquatic plants are harvested for medicinal purposes, just as others have always been used as food. Examples of the latter are cattails, which have edible shoots and roots, and arrowheads, whose large edible tubers were eaten by Native Americans. Medicinal aquatic plants include watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum), also widely used as a salad green, and water lily roots that are commonly eaten in many parts of the world as well as used for medicine. Marshmallow roots, flowers and leaves have medicinal uses including as a cough suppressant, immune system booster and wound healer, while pennywort (Hydrocotyle spp) has been used to alleviate symptoms of arthritis.
Seaweed was a popular food and an important trading item among Northwest Coast peoples in western Canada. Dried red laver (Porphyra abbottae), containing all essential vitamins and minerals, was commonly made into cakes, sometimes flavoured with the juice of chewed rock chitons (a shellfish). Cultivation of nori, a close relative of red laver, is a US$10 billion industry in Japan, and industrial production of the plant is beginning in North America as well. Coastal tribes commonly traded dried seaweed to interior tribes such as the Carrier and Gitksan, who used it as a medicine for goitre, an affliction caused by iodine deficiency. Other medicinal applications of seaweed included the use of the gelatinous material in rockweed receptacles to treat burns and sores, to strengthen limbs, and to remove foreign objects or soothe stinging in the eye. The Nuu-chah-nulth people used bull kelp to make a skin salve (Turner 2000, 2002).
On the aquatic animal side, medicinal leeches are undergoing a revival in popularity, after being collected to near-extinction in Europe during the last century. As a result of severe loss of habitat, the medicinal leech is now listed on Appendix III of the Bern Convention, Appendix II of CITES and Annex V of the Habitats Directive. It is also listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN and as Rare in the GB Red List. Leeches have proved uniquely useful in cleaning and oxygenating the sites of plastic and reconstructive surgery, and the best known species, Hirudo medicinalis is now bred in captivity in Europe and the US. The southern African species Aliolimnatis buntonensis is another candidate for surgical use, but has yet to be bred in captivity (Appleton, 2001). Wild populations of medicinal leeches would seem to be a valuable genetic resource.
Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine rely on a variety of aquatic plants and animals, some of which are used for multiple healing purposes. Cuttlefish bone, for example, is used to staunch bleeding, stop nocturnal emissions, treat diarrhoea, and cure skin ulcers. Pipefish are used to cure impotence and treat swellings. Clamshell, kelp and sargassum seaweed are combined to clear phlegm and stop coughing. Both marine and river turtles are used in the treatment of fever. Seahorses remain in high demand for the treatment of arthritis, impotence and urinary tract infections, and they have many other uses. Ground oyster shell is used for its calming effect, and abalone shell is used in the treatment of headache, dizziness and tremors (Bensky and Gamble, 1993).
Whether one subscribes to theories of medicinal value or not, the fact is that many aquatic organisms are already used for medicinal purposes, either by local communities (as in the example of the arrowhead plant) or, as in the case of seahorses, on an industrial scale that raises serious conservation concerns. The difficulty of addressing these concerns is often increased by the fact that many local communities rely on the collection of creatures such as the seahorse for a substantial part of their income, even if they have no local use for the animal.
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