February 6, 2009

Coral Reefs In Taiwan Turning Black

A study released on Friday said coral reefs off the southeast coast of Taiwan have turned black with disease possibly due to sewage discharge, threatening fragile undersea ecosystems and tourism.

Researcher Chen Chao-lun of Taiwan's state-funded Academia Sinica said the discovery suggests that coral is suffering widely in waters up to 16.4 feet deep and less than a mile offshore from two outlying islands.

Chen, whose began doing research with local environmental groups in 2007, was shocked at what a large distribution it covered. "If you snorkel, you'll see it's black. If it's all black, there won't be too many tourists."

The coral reefs are made up of delicate undersea structures that resemble rocky gardens made by tiny animals called coral polyps.

The reefs are important nurseries and shelters for fish and other forms of sea life.

Coastlines also depend on the reefs to provide a critical source of food for millions of people and scientists say they are potential storehouses of medicines.

Chen said Taiwan's study did not pinpoint a cause for the diseased coral, but untreated sewage is likely to be a factor.

Officials and long-time divers say on the tourism hotspot of Green Island, one the sites surrounded by diseased coral, garbage and excrement are dumped into the surrounding azure waters.

Coral-robbing tourists also plunder the reefs for souvenirs.

Chen said the researchers have sent their report to the Taiwanese government and plan to check for problems in other offshore areas where corals thrive.

Coral covers some 154,000 sq miles of tropical ocean floor. Australia is home to the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the world.

The massive collection of 2,900 reefs along 1,300 miles of Australia's northeast coast is contained within a marine park the size of Germany.


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