Tourists lolling in crystalline waters here may not be aware of
the miles and miles of coral reefs that lie off this Atlantic
coastal town. Some visitors may be equally ignorant of the
contribution these reefs make to their vacation and the part
tourism plays in the reefs demise.
These reefs provide a habitat for thousands of marine species.
They contribute to the white coral sand of the beaches. They lure
Scuba divers, and are a coastal protection against the ravages of
Coral reefs form the natural resource base of most of the
world's tropical tourist destinations and provide food for hundreds
of thousands who inhabit coastal settlements. Their value lies not
only in their aesthetic beauty, but in their contribution to local
and domestic economies.
But coral reefs are threatened. Deforestation and the resulting
movement of topsoil into coastal waters are responsible for
destroying large areas of them every year, particularly in the
Caribbean. Runoff waste from industrial, agricultural, and mining
activities are also causing destruction of reefs.
To combat these and other problems, scientists are learning more
about how to manage these precious ecosystems. Meanwhile, an
international coral reef organization has been formed to share
information. Yet progress has been slow as scientists, divers, and
environmentalists wrestle with political inertia and a lack of
"There is a growing perception of the need for management," says
John Ogden, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography in
St. Petersburg, Fla.
One answer to better management and protection of these areas
may be to focus on the economic potential of coral reefs - for both
local communities and national economies, say scientists.
"The most attractive reefs and the most economically valuable
are those found in developing countries," says Edgardo Gomez, a
scientist from the Marine Science Institute of the University of
Developing countries, however, must grapple with a laundry list
of other challenges to protect these natural resources including
ocean sewage disposal, use of coral and beach sand for
construction, overfishing, overpopulation, poverty, anchor damage,
and careless tourist activities.
"The threats in many cases originate from human activities which
are far removed from the coastal zone," says Dr. Ian Dight, the
coastal and marine co-ordinator for the UN Environmental Program.
Global warming and climate change also cause damage to coral
reefs. Even a slight rise in sea temperature can wipe out up to 90
percent of a coral reef and cause "bleaching," literally turning a
reef white in the process, according to Dr. Dight.
To combat these problems, the International Coral Reef
Initiative (ICRI) has been formed to help protect coral ecosystems
and simultaneously enrich the nations whose futures are tied to
"The ICRI is an attempt by the international scientific
community to stop reef destruction and unsustainable use of the
world's coral reef resources, to expand and manage marine protected
areas, and to network the science-based information for better
decision making," Dight says.
The ICRI was established at the Convention on Biological
Diversity in December 1994 by the governments of Australia, France,
Japan, Jamaica, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Sweden, and
the US. …