Sat, Jan 15, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Coral reefs under threat: COA

EROSION As much as 75 percent of the nation's coral reefs are threatened by pollution, fishing and development, a study by marine researchers found

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Coastline inspection by researchers from the Taiwanese Coral Reef Society indicate that most coral reef deterioration in Taiwan can be attributed to environmental pollution and overdevelopment in coastal areas.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CHENG MING-HSIU, ACADEMIA SINICA

About three-fourths of the nation's coral reefs regularly checked by researchers are deteriorating, the Council of Agriculture said yesterday, and the establishment of protected marine areas should be the first step to effectively mitigate this problem.

A five-year coral reef monitoring project conducted by the Taiwanese Coral Reef Society under the council's Fishery Administration ended in December. The data collected suggests that the deterioration of coral reefs in Taiwan could be attributed to pollution and development in coastal areas.

Fishery officials said yesterday that a map highlighting the distribution of coral reefs and a catalogue of coral species had been collected as a result of the project.

By analyzing coral reefs at 27 monitoring sites, researchers found that the reefs are threatened by destructive fishing practices, poorly-designed tourist area and global climate change.

"We've decided on 11 places that could potentially be designated protected marine areas where human activity will be prohibited for the sake of [coral reef] preservation," Wu Man-chuan (吳滿全), an official of Fishery Administration, told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Wu said coral reef protection was a global issue and future financial support for similar projects would remain available.

Data on the status of Taiwan's coral reefs were given to the UN for its report on the world's coral reefs in July last year. The report, entitled the Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2004, attributed the bleaching of coral reefs off Taiwan's coasts to a combination of factors, including overfishing, waste-water pollution, damage by recreational divers and nuclear power plant operations.

The UNESCO report analyzes the status of coral reefs in 96 countries around the world and alerts authorities when there is a change in the status. The world body notified Taiwanese authorities that nearly 75 percent of the nation's coral reefs have been damaged or are seriously threatened by human activity. According to UNESCO, of the 32 coral reefs described in the report, 18 have lost up to 70 percent of their coral life due to bleaching.

The report concludes that fish farms, highway construction, recreational areas and farming along Taiwan's coastal regions -- coupled with soil degradation and mudslides, have harmed the nation's coral reefs.

Jeng Ming-shiou (鄭明修), a zoologist from Academia Sinica and one of the researchers working on the coral reef monitoring project said yesterday that the latest information about the status of the nation's reefs was worrisome.

"From data gained in December, there is no reason to believe that the threats to coral reefs would be removed any time soon," Jeng said.

Since 1998, Jeng said, the status of coral reefs in Taiwan had been closely monitored by the society. Like reefs elsewhere East and North Asia, Taiwan's coral reefs are under the stress caused by human activity along coastal areas.

Jeng said that many countries in the region have developed coral conservation programs, but Taiwan's government seems reluctant to invest in such projects.

Citing Australia as an example, Jeng said the number of protected reefs in that country went from 4.6 percent to 33 two or three years ago.

"Taiwan has to designate protected areas for coral reefs, most notably from the harm posed by divers. This is the first step to stopping the deterioration," Jeng said.

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