6 Nations Vow to Save Coral Triangle

MANADO, Indonesia—Leaders from six nations agreed Friday to work jointly to save Southeast Asia’s Coral Triangle, considered the world’s richest underwater wilderness.

The leaders of East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands signed off on proposals to expand maritime sanctuaries and no-fishing zones during talks in Indonesia.The Coral Triangle Initiative calls for stronger international cooperation to combat illegal fishing and environmental destruction in an area half the size of the United States and home to half the world’s coral reefs.

‘‘The Coral Triangle is a globally recognized treasure. It is unique; there is nothing like it on Earth,’’ Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said of the region, which has been compared to the Amazon rain forest for its biodiversity.

Scientists say a combination of climate change, overfishing and pollution is destroying ecosystems in the Triangle, which is a vital source of food for millions of people and a nursery for maritime life from turtles to tuna.

Under the initiative, the littoral countries agreed to expand protected ocean reserves by millions of hectares and establish joint strategies for identifying key ecosystems and species for conservation.

The initiative calls for fishing to be banned from 20 percent of each major coastal habitat in the Triangle such as coral reefs, mangrove forests and sea grass areas, but set no specific time target.

It also sets targets ranging between 2012 and 2020 to designate and establish ‘‘priority seascape’’ marine reserves and stronger legislation and planning to curb overfishing and protect threatened species.

The agreement also calls for the establishment within four years of a plan to help coastal and small island ecosystems adapt to the consequences of climate change such as rising sea levels, warming waters, and increases in acidity.

Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands, said it would set aside 20 million hectares of maritime conservation parks by 2020, up from 13.4 million now.

But the overall plan contained no solid target on the protected areas.

Green groups praised the agreement as a rare example of high-level leaders backing an ambitious conservation plan.

‘‘In 30 years of conservation work, I have never seen anything like this; six leaders signing a commitment to protect their marine resources for the well being of their citizens and future generations,’’ Conservation International head Peter Seligmann said in a statement.

A report by environmental group WWF this week said climate change could wipe out the Coral Triangle by century’s end if nations did not commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, which are being blamed for global warming.

The death of the reefs could leave more than 100 million people without livelihoods, triggering destabilizing mass migrations to cities and neighboring countries, it said.

A new round of international climate change talks to replace the Kyoto Protocol will take place in the Danish capital Copenhagen in December.

- by Aubrey Belford

Source: Manila Standard Today, AFP