WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Potentially widespread and severe coral bleaching is predicted this winter, which could cause immense damage to some of the world's most important marine environments including the Coral Triangle of SE Asia and the Western Pacific, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warns.
A report from the US Government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts severe bleaching for parts of the Coral Triangle, a 3.4 million square mile expanse of ocean in the Indo-Pacific that is considered the center of the world's marine life.
Stretching from the Philippines to Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands, the Coral Triangle is home to 75% of all known coral species and more than 3000 species of fish. Labyrinths of limestone reefs, extensive sea grass meadows and coastal mangrove forests attract several different species of tuna, sea turtles and giants of the sea such as humpback whales, who all feed, breed and rest in the rich and sheltered waters.
"The Coral Triangle is perhaps the single most important marine eco-system on the planet," says Kate Newman, Managing Director of Coral Triangle Support at WWF. "With over double the number of coral and fish species found in other parts of the world including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the resources contained within the Coral Triangle are crucial to sustaining multi-billion dollar seafood and tourism industries. Without coral reefs the fish will eventually die out and ecosystems that millions depend upon could collapse."
The bleaching, predicted to occur between now and February, could have a devastating impact on coral reef ecosystems, killing coral and destroying food chains, including economically significant tuna species. There would be severe impacts for not only the 120 million people who live in the region, but cause a ripple effect felt around the world.
"This forecast bleaching episode will be caused by increased water temperatures and is the kind of event we can expect on a regular basis if average global temperatures rise above 2 degrees Celsius," said Richard Leck, Climate Change Strategy Leader for WWF's Coral Triangle Program. States Dr. Helen Fox from WWF, "This underscores the importance of reducing other stresses to coral reefs, such as pollution and overfishing, and also highlights the urgent need to combat climate change worldwide."
Regular bleaching episodes in this part of the world will have a massive impact on the region's ability to sustain local communities. In the Pacific many of the Small Island Developing States, such as the Solomon Islands, rely largely on coastal environments including the coral reefs for their food supply. This is a region where alternative sources of income and food are limited. The United States and the NGO community continue to play role in the survival of the coral and marine species in SE Asia's Coral Triangle. Recently, the US Agency for International Development and the US State Department committed over $40 million in funding to support programs that will help sustain the natural resources in this region
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