Marine scientists call for protection of Coral Sea

September 12th, 2008 - 11:14 am ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Sep 12 (IANS) Tropical marine scientists, strongly backed by environmental groups, have called for the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia, to be made into world’s largest marine reserve. The researchers said that the whole Coral Sea should become a no-fishing area to protect its immense environmental and heritage values from the escalating threats of overfishing and climate change.

“There is overwhelming evidence that the world’s marine ecosystems have been seriously degraded by overfishing, pollution and global warming. These trends call for urgent, practical solutions,” said Terry Hughes, director of ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

“Eleven percent of land habitats have been designated as parks to conserve their biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide to people. In contrast, less than a tenth of one percent of the world’s oceans are fully protected,” he said.

The Coral Sea provides critical habitats for many species, including critically endangered Hawksbill and endangered Green turtles, 25 species of whales and dolphins, and 27 species of sea bird, said Hugh Possingham, director of the Ecology Centre at the University of Queensland.

“At least 13 species of seabird breed on Coral Sea islands, including regionally important populations of the Red-footed Booby, Lesser frigate bird and Greater frigate bird.

The Coral Sea is one of the few places remaining on earth where large pelagic fishes (tuna, billfish and sharks) have not yet been severely depleted,” he said.

There is also an unsustainable bycatch of turtles, sharks and birds in pelagic fisheries. The rapid decline of large sharks due to illegal finning is also a major concern worldwide.

“Fishing activities in the Coral Sea contribute to significant declines of sharks, turtles and seabirds on the adjoining Great Barrier Reef. A single large no-take zone is the best approach for protecting these pelagic and migratory species because they cannot be protected inside small reserves,” said John Pandolfi of the University of Queensland.

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