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Healthy corals fared best against tsunami

Healthy corals fared best against tsunami

Indian Ocean coastlines increasingly vulnerable, warn the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and CORDIO.

Gland, Switzerland, 15 December 2005 (IUCN) –Throughout the Indian Ocean, healthy coral reefs were better able to withstand the force of the December 2004 tsunami, and may have offered increased protection to adjacent coastal areas, reveals the 2005 Coral Reef Degradation in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO) Status Report, released by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the CORDIO programme.

On the other side of the coin, reefs weakened by overexploitation or bleaching suffered disproportionately during the tsunami and their recovery has been much slower since, the publication says.

“Reefs continually degraded by over-fishing, coral mining, dynamite fishing and land-based pollution are more susceptible to future natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, creating a vicious circle of reef destruction and human suffering,” says Jerker Tamelander, IUCN-CORDIO Marine Coordinator for South Asia and one of the report’s authors.

“Yet the tsunami aftermath has been less severe, both for the corals and the people, where reefs had been soundly managed,” he says. The marine protected area of Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka for example saw less reef damage from the event, whilst at Bar Reef in Sri Lanka recovery from past stresses, such as the El Niño bleaching episode of 1998 which caused up to 90% of Indian Ocean corals to die, has been swifter than elsewhere.

IUCN has valued coastline protection and other services provided by coral reefs in the Indian Ocean at over US $1.5 billion a year. Moreover, annually, coral reefs provide nearly US $30 billion in net benefits in goods and services to world economies, including tourism, fisheries and coastal protection.

“These findings outline the importance of well-managed marine protected areas and healthy reefs,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN Global Marine Programme, “such areas act like a buffer against damage and disease.”

Corals do bounce back if given a chance and a favourable environment. The report finds coral reproduction and regeneration in most areas. “There is a ray of hope that corals will make it through, even in the most degraded areas, and keep on providing the poorest with the means to survive,” notes Tamelander.

Globally, almost 2.2 billion people (over one third of the world's population) live within 100 kilometres of a coral reef. In Southeast Asia – which contains one-quarter of the world's reefs and extraordinarily high levels of diversity, primarily within Indonesia and the Philippines – more than 70% of the population lives within the coastal zone.

“The 1998 mass-bleaching event demonstrated that an increase in the temperature of the oceans brought about by global warming is the biggest single threat to coral reefs worldwide,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN Global Marine Programme. “However, human-induced impacts such as overexploitation of marine resources, destructive fishing practices and sedimentation can be just as devastating on a local scale and also hinder recovery efforts from previous bleaching events.”

The report identifies low awareness of the value of coastal ecosystems, inadequate laws, poor enforcement and insufficient political will as the main stumbling blocks in the efforts to maintain the ocean’s productivity.

The impacts of the tsunami on Indian Ocean coral reefs ranged from negligible in parts of East Africa, India and the Maldives to extreme in parts of Sri Lanka and Nicobar Islands.

The 2005 CORDIO Status Report is a result of a two-year scientific monitoring of coral reefs, related coastal ecosystems and dependent communities in nine countries of the Indian Ocean rim, and has been compiled by over 50 scientists from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. It charts the status of reefs and their recovery from previous damage and reports on regional programmes to improve reef management. These programmes focus on activities such as monitoring, raising awareness, boosting reef resilience, promoting alternative livelihoods and exploring restoration techniques.

ENDS

Notes to the editors

CORDIO is a multi-stakeholder partnership project set up in 1998 to strengthen coral reef research on impacts of climate change and to monitor capacity and coordination, including bridging the gap between bio-physical and socio-economic issues as well as between science and management policy. The project provides data, information and knowledge needed for sound and adaptive management of both livelihoods and natural resources, ensuring sustainable and equitable use as well as conservation of biodiversity. Since its start CORDIO has received funding for project activities from Finland, the Netherlands, WWF, Rockefeller Foundation, the NFR Research Council (Sweden), and IUCN. Core funding is coming from Sweden (Sida/SAREC) and IUCN Global Marine Programme. Website: www.cordio.org.

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