From: WWF
Published September 18, 2007 08:08 AM

Plunder or Protection: WWF Calls For Safeguarding Coral Sea

Sydney, Australia – Recognized as one of world's last tropical marine wilderness regions, WWF is calling on the Australian government to declare the entire Coral Sea region a marine protected area.

The Coral Sea stretches over 780,000km2 of ocean — from the outer boundary of Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to the South Pacific Islands of Vanuatu, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands.

“The Coral Sea is still remarkably pristine and attracts international visitors who pay a premium to see the reef’s vast populations of white tip and grey reef sharks, hammerheads, manta rays and other sea creatures”, said Richard Leck, WWF-Australia's Marine Policy Manager.

“We are very concerned that illegal fishers will raid the Coral Sea reefs, mainly for shark fins for the Asian market. This threatens both the future of these fish in Australian waters and a burgeoning marine wildlife tourism industry worth millions.”

Marine research estimates reveal that the Coral Sea tourism is worth as much as US$9.4 million a year.

“The resident population of sharks at Osprey Reef, the main dive site in the Coral Sea, is 40 animals, making each shark worth over US$210,000 per year," said Richard Fitzpatrick, a leading Australian marine biologist and shark researcher.

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"When you compare this figure to US$52.50, the asking price for shark catch by local fisheries, it is more than evident that Australian reef sharks are more valuable alive than dead.”

Currently, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef shark populations — the white tip and grey reef shark — show a decline in abundance by 80% and 97% respectively outside areas that are not effectively protected, sounding a warning for the neighbouring reef shark populations of the Coral Sea.

“Global numbers of oceanic predators have plummeted 90% in population since 1950, " said Leck.

"We only have to look in our own backyard to see the severe population decline and shark population collapse that is occurring in oceans all over the world. We must act now to save the Coral Sea from a similar fate."

In addition to the threat of over fishing, the Coral Sea has also been earmarked for future oil and gas exploration and, with climate change increasing water temperatures, the Coral Sea reefs are also highly susceptible to coral bleaching.

“The Coral Sea presents us with a unique opportunity to safeguard one of the world’s few remaining pristine marine regions," he added.

"If we act quickly we can protect one of our most precious and fragile resources before irreversible damage
is done.”

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