Coral Triangle reefs ‘face wipe-out’ (The Straits Times Asia, Tuesday 10 July 2012)

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Coral Triangle reefs ‘face wipe-out’

Report says over 85% at risk; Singapore’s entire reef zone under severe threat

By JONATHAN PEARLMAN
FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SYDNEY – The marine life and reefs across Asia’s “Coral Triangle” are facing almost total wipe-out from coastal development, overfishing and pollution, a new report warns.

More than 85 per cent of reefs are threatened across the triangle region, which includes Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines: Singapore’s entire reef zone – a relatively small area of 13 sq km but with relatively high diversity – faces “severe threat”, mainly from high levels of shipping and industrial activity.

The report, released yesterday by the World Resources Institute, a non-governmental environmental think-tank based in the United States, presents a grim picture for the future of the triangle region.

While the triangle typically covers Intionesia, Malaysia’ Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste, the report has broadened it to include Singapore, Brunei and the entire economic zones of all the countries affected – an area of 86,500 sq km.

It has the world’s greatest concentration of marine life, including 35 per cent of the world’s reefs and more than 3,000 species of fish . It provides food and employment to more than 130 million people.

The report says the most damaging threat to the region is “destructive fishing” – the use of explosives and poisons to kill or capture fish. It is a common practice in the region, particularly in East Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The threats from coastal development and pollution – especially from shipping – have also been increasing. “When these threats are combined with recent coral bleaching, prompted by rising ocean temperatures, the (percentage) of reefs rated as threatened increases to more than 90 per cent,”  the report says.

It calls on nations in the area to agree quickly on measures to curb pollution and excessive fishing.

It lists a range of recommendations to “avoid irreversible damage and loss”, including tighter coastal zoning laws and removing subsidies that encourage excessive fishing.

It also says pollution could be reduced by preventing waste disposal by ships at sea, designating safe shipping lanes and preventing run-off from farming and mining.

“People’s high dependence on reefs, in terms of providing food and livelihoods, means the  degradation of the region’s reefs will be felt acutely by local populations, with implications for regional food security and globally important fish stocks,” it says.

The report, Reefs At Risk Revisited In The Coral Triangle, was launched at the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium, a four-yearly meeting of the world’s top marine scientists, which is being held this year in Cairns, Australia.

The report’s lead author, Ms Lauretta Burke, said the threat to the region’s reefs was “incredibly high” and would affect millions of people who depend on them for their livelihoods and protection from waves during storms. “The benefits reefs provide are at risk, which is why concerted action to mitigate threats to reefs across the Coral Triangle region is so important,” she said.

At the conference yesterday, more than 2,600 scientists released a landmark statement calling for immediate action to address the threat to reefs around the world. The statement says the main threats are pollution, sedimentation, overfishing and climate change, and “all of them are expected to increase in severity”.

A senior scientist from the Smithsonian Institution in the US, Dr Jeremy Jackson, said the future of coral reefs was “a central problem for humanity”.

“What’s good for reefs is also critically important for people and we should wake up to that fact, ” he said.

jonathanmpearlman@gmail.com

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