May 13, 2009

Coral Triangle Faces Destruction Without Emissions Cuts

Coral reefs could disappear entirely from the Coral Triangle region of the Pacific Ocean by the end of the century unless significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are achieved, the environmental group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned on Wednesday.

Destruction of the world's richest ocean wilderness would threaten the food supply and livelihoods for about 100 million people, according to the WWF report entitled, "The Coral Triangle and Climate Change: Ecosystems, People and Societies at Risk."

Averting such a disaster will depend on quick and effective global action on climate change coupled with the implementation of regional solutions to problems of over-fishing and pollution, according to the WWF-commissioned study presented at the World Oceans Conference in Manado, Indonesia on Wednesday.

The Coral Triangle is comprised of the coasts, reefs and seas of the countries of Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste.

"This area is the planet's crown jewel of coral diversity and we are watching it disappear before our eyes," said Catherine Plume, Director of the Coral Triangle Program for WWF-U.S.

"But as this study shows, there are opportunities to prevent this tragedy while sustaining the livelihoods of millions who rely on its riches."

The report offers two dramatically different scenarios for the Coral Triangle, which is comprised of just one percent of the Earth's surface but is home to 30 percent of the world's coral reefs, 76 percent of reef-building coral species and more than 35 percent of coral reef fish species.  The area also serves as vital spawning grounds for tuna and other economically important fish.

"In one scenario, we continue along our current climate trajectory and do little to protect coastal environments from the onslaught of local threats," said Queensland University Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the study's leader.

"In this world, people see the biological treasures of the Coral Triangle destroyed over the course of the century by rapid increases in ocean temperature, acidity and sea level, while the resilience of coastal environments also deteriorates under faltering coastal management. Poverty increases, food security plummets, economies suffer and coastal people migrate increasingly to urban areas," Hoegh-Guldberg said.

The report also noted opportunities to avoid a worst-case scenario through substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and international investment to strengthen the region's natural environments.  These solutions would help to build a resilient and robust Coral Triangle in which economic growth, food security and natural environments are maintained.

"Climate change in the Coral Triangle is challenging but manageable, and the region would respond well to reductions in local environmental stresses from overfishing, pollution, and declining coastal water quality and health," Hoegh-Guldberg said.

Nevertheless, even under the best case scenario, the region can expect to experience significant losses of coral, rising sea levels, increased storm activity, severe droughts and reduced food availability from coastal fisheries. However, effective management of coastal resources would allow communities to remain reasonably intact and more resilient under such hardships.

WWF officials said world leaders have a role to play in enacting international action on climate change and in helping Coral Triangle nations strengthen management of their marine resources.

"We must forge a strong international agreement to bring about sharp reductions in greenhouse gases at the UN Climate Conference at Copenhagen in December," said Plume.


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