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Report calls for drastic steps to save coral reefs in SE Asia

AROUND 100 million people risk losing their homes and livelihoods unless drastic steps are taken to protect Southeast Asia's biologically diverse coral reefs, which could be wiped out in coming decades because of climate change, a report said yesterday.

The Coral Triangle - spanning Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and East Timor - accounts for a third of the world's coral reefs and 35 percent of coral reef fish species.

If carbon emissions are not cut 25 to 40 percent by the year 2020, higher ocean temperatures could kill off vast marine ecosystems and half the fish in them, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which warned that 100 million people earning a living off the sea could be forced to leave inundated coastlines and find new jobs.

The group, which presented its 220-page study at the five-day World Ocean Conference in Manado, Indonesia, cited 300 published scientific studies and 20 climate change experts.

"Decisive action must be taken immediately, or a major crisis will develop," the report said.

"Hundreds of thousands of unique species, entire communities and societies will be in jeopardy," it said.

Scientists have long warned that higher temperatures will melt polar ice and cause sea levels to rise, wiping out island communities and coastal ecosystems. Increasing carbon dioxide is also making oceans increasingly acidic, eroding sea shells, bleaching coral and killing other marine life.

But many questions remain about oceans - which can also play an important part in absorbing carbon - partly because the technology to study them is relatively new.

"We are looking to promote better understanding of the role of the ocean in the climate system," said Mary M. Glackin, United States deputy undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere. "It's really a web of life. So you need to be concerned about the very smallest thing up to the very high predators."

"The acidity that will be impacting some of those species could really have ripple-through effects," she added.

Fish living in the coral reefs, mangroves and sea grass ecosystems in Southeast Asia generate US$3 billion in annual income through commercial fishing, provide coastal protection from high waves and give food security to millions of poor families.

In addition to climate change, marine ecosystems are being eroded by pollution, overfishing and destructive fishing techniques.

Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, said yesterday it wasn't going to stand by and wait for disaster.

It officially launched a new, protected marine park in the Coral Triangle with a unique and varied ecosystem that is considered to be especially resilient to rising sea temperatures.

The park, an area about the size of the Netherlands, is a major migratory corridor and home to 14 whale species, as well as dolphins, dugongs, manta rays and sea turtles. It also has a high concentration of iridescent coral, fish, crustaceans, mollusks and plants.

"If well managed, this park has the capability to support sustainable fisheries and to ensure food security" for up to 2 million people in the region, said Indonesian Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Freddy Numberi.


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