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Talks Begin on Safeguarding Wonders of the 'Coral Triangle'

The six nations that make up the so-called Coral Triangle in the Asia-Pacific region are working to preserve some of the world's most valuable marine life. The triangle spans the area between East Timor, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Scientists and environmentalists say the Coral Triangle is home to one of the most important collections of marine life on the planet.

It covers nearly six million square kilometers and its warm water is home to rich concentrations of iridescent corals, fish, crustaceans and marine plants.

It contains more than 3,000 species of fish, including the giant whale shark, as well as a rich diversity of sea grass meadows and mangrove forests, which attract sea turtles and humpback whales.

Delegates from the six Coral Triangle nations are meeting in Townsville in northern Australia. They hope to find ways to improve conservation efforts and to protect the food supplies and livelihoods of millions of people who rely on fishing and tourism.

The proximity of the Coral Triangle to Australian waters has prompted the government in Canberra to host the gathering.

Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett says efforts must be made to protect the region's economic and environmental sustainability.

"A significant driver of regional economies estimated to total over $2 billion annually and also in the midst of both those strong environment values, those significant economic benefits, this coral triangle is under extraordinary pressure, not only climate change impacts, potential acidification of the sea there and the raising water temperatures but also coastal development pressures and over-fishing," said Garrett.

Australia hopes the talks in Townsville will lead to the creation of the world's largest coral reef conservation program.

The Canberra government is willing to share scientific and management expertise and will also consider funding aid.

Delegates from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are attending the conference.