Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fading Colours of corals spell doom for Malaysia's reefs

Coral bleaching will damage some of the world's most important marine environments, including those in Malaysian waters in the coming months, international conservation organisation WWF has warned.A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce predicts severe bleaching for parts of the Coral Sea, which is adjacent to the Coral Triangle and Australia's Great Barrier Reef, a 5.4 million sq km of ocean in the Indo Pacific which is considered the centre of the world's marine life.
The Coral Triangle, which stretches from the Philippines to Malaysia (Sabah) and Papua New Guinea, is home to 75 per cent of all known coral species, with more than 120 million people relying on its resources.
It is the most diverse marine region on the planet, matched in its importance to life only by the Amazon rainforest and the Congo basin.
Defined by marine areas containing more than 500 species of reef-building coral, it also spans across Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste.Coral bleaching, which is expected to occur between now and February, may have a devastating impact on coral reef ecosystems, killing corals and destroying food chains.
Coral bleaching is the loss of colour of corals due to the release of symbiotic algae which normally live within coral animals. This occurs when corals are stressed by several factors, including high temperatures.
Australia-based WWF Coral Triangle Programme climate change strategy leader Richard Leck said the forecasted bleaching episode would be caused by increased water temperatures and was the type of event that could be expected regularly basis if average global temperatures rose by more than two degrees.
"Regular bleaching episodes in this part of the world will have a massive impact on the region's ability to sustain local communities.
"In the Pacific, many of the small developing states, such as the Solomon Islands, rely largely on the coast and coastal environments such as coral reefs for food supply. This is a region where alternative sources of income and food are limited.
"Time is crucial and Australia needs to step up to the plate. Australia has a huge role to play in assisting Coral Triangle countries and people to adapt to the changes in their climate," Leck said in a press release issued through the programme's Live Reef Fish Trade and Climate and Travel Strategies unit which is based in Kota Kinabalu.
Conservationists also announced details of the journey a green turtle had taken from Indonesia to Australia and which could help track its migratory route.
The female turtle, named Ana, was tagged in Indonesia last month as part of a WWF turtle-tracking project.
Anna made her way from a nesting beach in east Java, crossed the Indian ocean and is on track to reach the beaches of the Kimberley-Pilbara coast in Australia.
WWF Ocean's programme leader Gilly Llewellyn said Ana's journey had revealed an "oceanic superhighway" that could assist conservationists to better understand how marine turtles navigate the world's seas.
"This throws the spotlight on the true natural values of the magnificent Kimberley marine ecosystem and its link to the Coral Triangle to the north -- the world's epicentre of marine biodiversity -- and the cross-roads of migration routes and breeding grounds for whales, turtles, dolphins and other precious marine species.
"Ana's journey has shown us areas where we need to focus our efforts. We need to tap into the secret lives of species such as turtles, so we can design networks of marine protected areas that conserve the full range of plant and animal life and ensure their longevity."

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