From: Jim Loney, Reuters
Published December 3, 2004 12:00 AM

U.S., Australia Team Up to Protect Vulnerable Reefs

MIAMI − Guardians of two of the world's most popular coral reefs joined forces Thursday to protect their fragile charges from the ravages of water pollution, coral disease and people.


Managers of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and representatives of the U.S. and Florida governments signed a pact to share knowledge on how best to protect the Australian and Floridian reefs, which together may host 6 million visitors a year.


"We share many of the same threats to our coral reefs," said Billy Causey, manager of the Keys reefs, at a meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force in Miami.


Scientists have predicted that the world could lose 40 percent of its coral reefs by 2010 at the current rate of destruction. A U.S. government agency says 27 percent of all coral reefs have already been destroyed or badly damaged.


Reefs generate billions of tourism and fishing dollars for the two countries. Coral reefs are undersea gardens of multicolored rocky formations built by tiny creatures called polyps. They take up a small fraction of the ocean floor but provide habitat for an estimated 25 percent of marine life, experts say.


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Corals grow slowly -- some at a rate of just an inch or two per year -- and are easily damaged by storms, dirty water, ship groundings and careless boaters, divers and fishermen.


Cutting-Edge Science


At a news conference in Miami, reef managers said the new partnership was expected to produce cutting-edge science aimed at improving reef resilience, the ability of corals to survive stress and regenerate.


"The Great Barrier Reef is one of the best protected coral reef systems in the world but we cannot afford to be complacent," said Jon Day, director for conservation at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.


President Bush will request Congress a a budget allocation of $2.7 million to support broader coral conservation efforts, including the bilateral collaboration, a U.S. official announced at the meeting.


Although it is difficult to know how many people use a vast tract of ocean, about 1.5 million tourists visit the Great Barrier Reef annually and other traffic takes the visitor total to an estimated 4 million, Day said.


The Florida Keys receive about 3 million visitors yearly, about 60 percent of them scuba divers and snorkelers and another 20 percent fishermen who visit the nearby reefs, Causey said.


Scientists will share information on practical reef protection measures like dealing with tourists, no-fishing zones and the best places for mooring buoys, which keep boaters from dropping anchors on delicate corals.


Source: Reuters


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