April 26, 2005

World Threatened By Damage to Coral Reefs

VICTORIA (AFP) -- Marine biologists this week launched an appeal for more funds to monitor and protect the world's imperiled coral reefs, warning that rampant damage to the undersea ecosystems poses a global threat.

"The threat to coral reefs is therefore no longer just an island problem but a world concern," Seychelles Environment Minister Ronny Jumeau told more than 80 marine experts gathered here for a five-day conference.

With about 20 percent of the earth's reefs damaged beyond repair, 24 percent under imminent threat and 26 percent facing long-term threats, Jumeau said the international community had to do more to ensure their protection.

"The developed world should commit more funds to coral reef monitoring programmes and to the management of protected areas," he said.

"If we allow our coral to die especially in the face of sea level rise, thousands of islands across the globe will disappear, along with whole countries, innumerable communities, entire cultures," Jumeau said.

According to reports presented to the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) conference that opened here on Monday, reefs have been damaged in the waters of 93 nations.

In parts of the Indian Ocean, where the Seychelles islands are located, researchers fear that reefs could disappear from vast swathes of sea beds in the next 20 years, according to the reports.

Although such damage has immediate effects on small islands, it can also endanger food security in larger nations, experts said.

"Many species of fish depend on coral reefs for their food or protection and the collapse of the reefs would lead to elevated costs of fish worldwide," said ICRI co-chair Rolph Payet.

Delegates to the conference said rich nations, which emit a large percentage of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming and reef destruction, had a special responsibility to act.

ICRI is a private sector-government partnership set up in 1995 to address coral reef conservation and management and to reduce the destruction of coral reefs as well as other related ecosystems.