MANILA, Philippines, March 7, 2002 - Scientists today called for better management of Southeast Asia's marine protected areas, especially in the Philippines whose coral reefs rank as among the most threatened in the region. Philippine coral reefs, the second largest in the region, are facing severe threats from overfishing, destructive fishing, and sedimentation and pollution.
The call was issued in response to a new report, Reefs at Risk:
Southeast Asia (RRSEA), which was co-written with scientists from the Marine Sciences Institute, University of the Philippines, and the Marine Laboratory, Silliman University. The new report is published by WRI, the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Center
(UNEP-WCMC), ICLARM - The World Fish Center, and the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN).
Reefs at Risk: Southeast Asia, the most detailed analysis of its kind, indicate that the threats to the world's most important and most extensive coral reef systems are higher than originally estimated when a similar survey was taken in 1998. The report is based on a vast database on the region's coral reefs compiled by 35 scientists from the Philippines, other Asian countries, the US, Australia and the UK.
Using sophisticated computer software and a new index of threats, the scientists estimate that as much as 98 percent of the Philippines' reefs are severely threatened by human activities compared with the 88 percent average for the region. The Philippines has more than one-fourth of the region's coral reefs, next only to Indonesia.
"Coral reef condition in the Philippines and throughout Southeast Asia continues to decline," said Lauretta Burke, a WRI researcher and co-author of the report. "Although our report indicates that the picture is pretty grim, it will provide resource managers and government officials with the kind of information that they need to effectively manage their coral reefs."
There are 646 marine protected areas in Southeast Asia, but of the 332 whose management status could be determined, only 14 percent were rateds effectively managed. The Philippines has 136 marine protected areas, containing 7 percent of the country's coral reefs, but only 14 of them can be rated as well-managed.
The report cited the Philippines' move toward community-managed marine protected areas which enhances local support, reduces conflicts and bolsters enforcement. In many Southeast Asian countries, these areas are still managed through central government programs, many of which are understaffed and insufficiently funded.
Although effective management requires additional investments, the report states that the cost of inaction is even higher. In the Philippines, current levels of blast fishing, overfishing and sedimentation could cost more than US$2.5 billion over a 20-year period.Over all, the sustainable value of Southeast Asia's coral reef fisheries is estimated at US$2.4 billion annually.
Southeast Asia is considered the global epicenter of marine diversity. Its nearly 100,000 square kilometers of coral reefs, or 34 percent of the world's total, house over 600 of the 800 reef-building coral species in the world. About 400 species can be found in the Philippines, 12 species of which are unique to the country.
The authors based their conclusions on a set of new standardized indicators that take into account such threats as coastal development, overfishing, destructive fishing, marine pollution, and sedimentation
and pollution from inland activities. These indicators form the Reefs at Risk Threat Index, which identifies areas most at risk and highlights the linkages between human activities and reef condition.
The report concludes that overfishing is the most pervasive threat to coral reefs in Southeast Asia. About 64 percent of Southeast Asia's reefs are threatened by overfishing. "If fishing in Southeast Asia is
not reduced to more sustainable levels, both coral reefs and food security will be further imperiled," said Mark Spalding, a co-author of the report and an organizer of ICRAN, a global partnership aimed at
halting reversing the decline of the world's coral reefs.
The report recommends the following:
* Expand the protected areas network for coral reefs. Currently, only 8 percent of the region's reefs are in marine protected areas.
* Reduce overfishing through improved management and the development of alternative livelihoods for fishers. Decreased fishingeffort would result in higher catches and incomes for those who still choose to fish.
* Regulate the international trade in live reef organisms. The total value of the trade in live reef fish exceeds US$1 billion per year, with Southeast Asia supplying up to 85 percent of the fish in the
aquarium trade and nearly all of the live reef food fish.
* Improve the management of existing marine protected areas, which will require political and financial commitments from government, private organizations, and the tourism industry.
"Coral resources are being stressed at unsustainable rates," said former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos, an avid scuba diver, in the foreword to the report. "Better information about the location of reefs and their accompanying threats is critical to alleviating the many pressures that threaten their future."
Funds for the Reefs at Risk: Southeast Asia are provided by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the United Nations Foundation (UNF), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Adlai Amor, +(1-202) 729-7736; email@example.com
The World Resources Institute (http://www.wri.org/wri) is an environmental think tank that goes beyond research to create practical ways to protect the Earth and improve people's lives.