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Coral bleaching will hit the world’s poor

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Coral bleaching will hit the world’s poor

Climate change puts at risk the livelihoods of at least 100 million people, mostly in developing countries, who depend on coral reef goods and services

Nairobi, Kenya, 16 November 2006 (IUCN) – The bleaching of corals due to climate change may result in global economic losses of up to US$ 104.8 billion over the next 50 years, or 0.23 percent of current global GDP, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) said today at the United Nations conference on climate change.

These losses will occur in coral reef dependent industries and services such as tourism and fisheries as well as shoreline protection and medicinal plants, according to the estimates.

While the developed world is responsible for three quarters of the green house gases in the atmosphere, the world’s poor will be worst affected by coral bleaching: 100 million people, most of which live in developing countries, depend on coral reefs for their survival. 40 percent of the world’s poor live in South Asia, and most of them rely on natural resources such as coral reef fish for their livelihoods.

Coral reefs only cover 0.2 percent of the ocean floor, but contain an incredible 25 percent of marine species globally.

“Mass coral bleaching events will have similar consequences on the lives of people as droughts and oil spills – and require a similar response. This scenario is but one example of how people’s lives may be threatened through climate change impacts on our environment,” said Australian Senator and IUCN Vice President Christine Milne.

Coral reefs are one of the most vulnerable ecosystems to climate change. With mass coral bleaching events like the one in 1998 where 16 percent of the world’s reefs suffered mortality, they are the first to have clearly shown that climate change is a reality.

“Coral reefs are the ocean equivalent of the canary in the coalmine – they are the first proof that climate change is real and threatens both nature and people. These estimates are another reason to combat climate change now, and avoid the incredible costs we may face if we hesitate any longer as the Stern report has shown,” said Senator Milne.

Climate change is responsible for increased sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification – due to higher levels of dissolved CO2 – which lead to increased mass coral bleaching and mortality, reduced growth of corals and weakened animal skeletons. More acid ocean waters have already reduced coral reef calcification, and therefore growth rates and structural strength of coral skeletons, by 30 percent.

“Given the direct dependence of millions of the world’s poor on coral reefs, we cannot allow this catastrophe to continue. It is very clear what we have to do: we need to limit climate change and make coral reefs more resilient to climate change,” saidEnrique Lahmann, Senior Coordinator of theIUCN Global Programme.

The World Conservation Union is therefore urging the parties to the UN climate change convention to limit sea surface temperature increase to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

In addition to that, coral reefs need to be prepared as much as possible to those climate change impacts that are already happening. This means keeping other threats off the reef, such as destructive fishing and pollution, to make it healthier and thus more resilient to climate change impacts.

“We need to minimize human impacts such as pollution, overfishing or unsustainable coastal development. Then the coral reefs have a bigger chance of coming back after bleaching and of adapting to rising sea temperatures or more acid waters,” says Gabriel Grimsditch of the IUCN Global Marine Programme, one of the authors of a recent publication on how to make coral reefs more resilient to climate change.

Another important measure is protecting so-called ‘refuges’ of particularly healthy and climate-change-resilient sites that may be able to help regenerate degraded coral reefs in the future; and monitoring of coral reefs before, during and after a bleaching event to raise awareness amongst managers and politicians.

“So far, only one percent of the world’s oceans are protected – compared to 12 percent of the terrestrial surface. Conservation of larger parts of the marine environment with stronger involvement of local communities is vital to the long term security of the poor,” said Senator Milne.

Ends


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