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Experts Present Dim View on Quality of Oceans - 2001-12-03

Scientists and environmental ministers are meeting in Paris this week to assess the health of the world's oceans and coasts. The officials say neither is in good health and that is bad news for everyone.

Two-thirds of the world's population today live within 60 kilometers of the seashore, and the numbers are growing. So, experts say, are the problems facing the world's oceans and coasts.

Seaside countries like Iceland are concerned about the economic and environmental impact of overfishing. Others are worried about badly managed fish farming or coastal pollution.

Patricio Bernal heads the oceanographic commission at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is hosting the meeting. The problem, Mr. Bernal says, is there are so many threats facing the world's oceans and coasts, but not enough information about them.

Although most countries recently agreed on a blueprint to tackle global warming, the United States has not signed onto the so-called Kyoto Protocol. Without U.S. participation, some scientists believe, global warming-related threats like rising sea level, will remain.

The Bush administration is expected to come up with plans to tackle global warming, but it's not clear when.

Environmental experts are also concerned the war on terrorism may deflect attention and resources away from the environment.

Findings on this week's conference on oceans and coasts will be presented at an environmental summit scheduled for next year in South Africa.