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New Report Finds Destruction of Coral Reefs Will Cost Billions - 2003-02-20

A new report warns that the destruction of the world's coral reefs will result in billions of dollars of losses to the world economy. The independent study was commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund.

The study finds that 27 percent of the world's coral reefs have been lost as a result of uncontrolled mass tourism and coastal development, overfishing, pollution, and global climate change.

At the present rate of destruction, the report warns, 60 percent of the world's coral reef systems could be permanently lost. Peter Bryant is a WWF expert in the Endangered Seas Program. He says the consequences for the world economy would be significant.

Mr. Bryant also notes that coral reefs are worth $30 billion a year by supporting fisheries, protecting inland waterways from the pounding of ocean waves, and as tourist attractions. "Because most of the reef systems are centered in the developing world, that is an incredible revenue producing stream for developing economies," he said. "And, I think you will see poverty increase if reef systems are continually lost around the world. As you overfish around the reefs, your food security decreases and your poverty increases."

The richest coral reefs and diversity in fish life are found in the waters of the developing world, closest to the equator. The study says the South Pacific, West Indian Ocean and Caribbean attract divers and coastal developers because of their spectacular marine life.

Unfortunately, it notes, the sheer numbers of divers and snorklers attracted to these areas has done considerable damage to coral reefs.

Mr. Bryant also says corals provide great medicinal benefits. He says they are the source of much of the world's pharmaceutical research. "More than half, now, of all new cancer drug research focuses on marine organisms," said Mr. Bryant. With reefs being the highest level of bio diversity within the ocean systems, they are going to be an incredible resource for medical compounds and things that can be used in that regard. Additionally, there is a reef in the Caribbean, a sponge actually that forms the basis for AZT, which is a treatment for people with HIV-AIDS infections."

The Worldwide Fund for Nature says coral reefs should be declared as marine protected areas so that human activities there can be more closely managed. It describes the situation as critical and says governments must take responsibility for the future of their coastal communities.