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Marine Protected Areas Aid Coral Reefs Threatened by Global Warming

WASHINGTON, (Nov. 28, 2001) - A new report from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and The Nature Conservancy provides scientists, policy makers and park managers with new science-based principles for managing protected coral reefs, helping reefs survive and recover from coral bleaching incidents and guiding the location and management of new marine protected areas.

Entitled Coral Bleaching and Marine Protected Areas, the report captures the findings of the first workshop on management strategies designed to help mitigate the impact of global warming on coral reef health in protected areas.

When corals are exposed to stressful conditions they lose the colorful symbiotic algae that are necessary to their continued health and survival. This "bleaching" is often brought on by increased sea temperatures that accompany global warming. Human-induced emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blanket the world and trap in heat, causing global warming.

"To save coral reefs, we need to develop better management to protect reefs around the world and, at the same time, act to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming," said Dr. Ghislaine Llewellyn, a WWF marine conservation scientist and contributor to the report. "This report suggests that there are practical measures we can take to help protect corals."

In the last decade, climate change has emerged as a significant threat to coral reefs, with large areas of reefs dying off due to coral bleaching. Coral bleaching has been particularly severe in the Indian Ocean, where as many as 50-95 percent of all corals died.

"Many of our coral reefs are being devastated by emerging global threats, like climate-related bleaching, that cannot be managed on site," said Rod Salm, the original proponent of the ideas discussed at the workshop. Salm is director of The Nature Conservancy's Asia Pacific coastal and marine program and an editor of the report. "But some coral communities are surviving these threats and these reefs can provide profound insight on how we can protect these precious ecosystems. We need to examine the factors that help these communities survive and use them as the foundations for our future coral reef conservation action."

Coral Bleaching and Marine Protected Areas provides the basis for further research and monitoring to refine common characteristics among coral reef communities that survive the effects of global warming. Findings are expected to provide further insight into effective coral reef conservation policies and management strategies for marine protected areas.

Coral reefs are one of the most threatened marine ecosystems. At least two thirds of the worlds reefs are considered to be deteriorating and significant losses are predicted in the next decade. Reefs face threats from a variety of sources ranging from the complex and wide ranging problems like global warming to destructive localized industries such as fishing with bombs and cyanide to mining of corals for building material, sedimentation, pollution and coastal development.

"Coral reefs are being negatively affected by local, regional and global influences and it is critical that we use management tools focused on preserving coral reefs at each of these levels," said Billy Causey, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. "While local and regional pollution, over-fishing and habitat destruction present major threats to coral reefs, the global impact of coral bleaching is killing corals at an alarming rate."

The report was released this week at a International Coral Reef Initiative workshop in Maputo, Mozambique where international policy makers, scientists and park managers are meeting to call on the world's leaders to be responsible managers and to help save coral reefs. The report can also be found online at www.conserveonline.org.

The release of the workshop report coincides with the launch of a worldwide survey to further determine the role certain environmental factors may have in helping coral communities resist or rapidly recover from bleaching. The survey will be conducted through a questionnaire posted on the ReefBase Web site (www.reefbase.org/questionaire/ index.asp), is expected to take six months, and is a contribution to the International Biodiversity Observation Year. All coral reef researchers and managers are urged to contribute to this global assessment and complete the questionnaire.