Urgent action needed to protect the world’s most diverse marine ecosystem from climate change

8/5/2009

Washington, DC – The most diverse marine ecosystem in the world is at risk because of climate change and needs urgent action to protect it, scientists announced today.

A meeting of scientists organized by Conservation International to assess the impacts of climate change on the Verde Island Passage (VIP) – a narrow corridor of coral-filled tropical waters in the Philippines – called for immediate action from the global community to protect this hugely important site.

The VIP has arguably the highest concentration of marine species of any region in the world’s oceans, including whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) and giant clams (Tridacna gigas). But the panel of scientists announced that the impacts of climate change in combination with over-exploitation of resources are threatening the marine habitats.

Climate change will not only affect marine habitats and species but also fisheries and the tourism industry of this extremely popular destination with consequences for the well-being of nearly 2 million people who rely on them for food and income.

The scientists found that:

  • Increasing ocean temperatures are causing coral bleaching – meaning that corals can no longer support the array of plants and animals that rely on them.

     

  • Sea level rise is causing coral drowning as the water gets deeper and coral growth is inhibited. Sea level rise is also damaging mangroves - a key costal habitat that protects the coastline and coastal communities from storms, reduces the impacts of floods and provides important habitats for juvenile fishes.

     

  • Increased storm frequency and intensity is affecting the marine habitats as well as coastal settlements and the tourist trade in the area.

     

The scientists were joined by government officials and local people who discussed the changes in the environment, how the local community is being affected and what needs to be done to adapt. The islands are facing the collapse of fish stocks, damage from aquaculture activities like shrimp farming, and falling tourist revenues.

A series of measures to protect the area were recommended by the scientists, including ensuring that seagrass beds, mangroves and other habitats that provide important ecological services are included in protected areas, the promotion of alternative livelihoods such as seaweed farming, and construction of ports on stilts to allow sediments to move freely, hence reducing sediment loads that impact corals and other coastal marine ecosystems.

"The marine habitats and species of the Verde Island Passage are already threatened by human impacts, like overfishing, pollution and coastal infrastructure development. Climate change is intensifying these impacts, with severe consequences for the well-being of the people of the area, since they depend on fishing and tourism industry," said Dr. Giuseppe Di Carlo, CI's Marine Climate Change Manager. "This workshop tried to offer concrete solutions to adapting to the effects of climate change, so that the unique biodiversity of this place can survive for future generations."

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Photos available here: http://bit.ly/15aheV
 
Note to editors:

Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth’s richest regions of plant and animal diversity and demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments. For more information about CI, visit www.conservation.org.