CORAL BLEACHING RINGS ALARM BELLS

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GREENPEACE PACIFIC

SUVA, Fiji Islands

NEWS RELEASE April 19, 2000

SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 19, 2000 - Greenpeace-Pacific)---Greenpeace today released evidence of a widespread episode of coral bleaching, which is taking place in many parts of the Pacific.

"Unusually high ocean temperatures of 30-31 degrees centigrade in the last month have resulted in severe coral bleaching of major reefs around Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island," says Suva Marine Biologist, Ed Lovell.

Dr. Nick Dulvy, Marine Biologist at the University of the South Pacific, reports that his surveys in Beqa Lagoon in Fiji found 78 percent of coral at four meters depth have turned white or discolored. He estimates that at least 12 percent of coral in the area is now dead after the sudden incident.

Coral bleaching has also been observed by reef watchers in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Cook Islands. (1)

Coral reefs are extremely important to the local and national economies of Pacific Islands. They influence the success of the fishing and tourism industries, provide material for medicine, and protect many coastlines from storms.

Current scientific projections of global warming predict an increase in the frequency and intensity of coral bleaching and coral mortality. A report commissioned by Greenpeace last year by leading coral scientist Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg substantiates this.

"What’s happening now in Fiji is not surprising. What we’ve been seeing over the past two decades is a pattern of increasingly warmer than usual temperatures that are showing serious impacts on reef systems around the world," Dr. Hoegh-Guldberg said.

"The patterns show that these disturbances are happening more frequently and with more intensity. All climate models show we’re experiencing more frequent and pronounced warmer than normal temperatures that are associated with human activities causing global warming," he said.

"Australia, New Zealand and other industrialised countries must make substantial cuts in their domestic greenhouse gas emissions if fragile and valuable ecosystems such as coral reefs are to remain healthy and productive," said Greenpeace climate change campaigner, Angie Heffernan.

"Instead industrialized nations such as Australia have been trying to undermine international efforts to cut industrial emissions by promoting the use of sinks as a means to reducing emissions," Heffernan said.

"Australia’s real agenda is to widen loopholes in the Kyoto Protocol so it can increase emissions from fossil fuels," said Heffernan.

"We already know that the Pacific Islands will be among the first victims of climate change, and these bleaching incidents show this is now a reality. Pacific Islands are not contributing to the problem. The best response the international community can give island nations is to phase out the use of fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy."

Notes For Editors

Information from the Solomon Islands comes from local dive operators Cara Koopman and Dorian Borcherds of Solomon Charters in Gizo.

Information from Papua New Guinea comes from the Director, Nature Conservancy in Kimbe Bay. Bleached coral is estimated to be 10-15% in Kimbe Bay.

Information from the Cook Islands comes from Jacqui Evans, Programme Coordinator for WWF Cook Islands who says bleaching within the Rarotonga Lagoon is the worst she’s seen in 11 years - about 30% bleached.

For interviews contact:

Angie Heffernan in Suva on ++679 312 861 Ed Lovell, Marine Biologist in Suva: ++ 679 850 122 Dr. Nick Dulvy in Suva: ++679 212880 Arlene Griffen in Sydney on ++ 612 92630352 Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg on Heron Island on ++61749781399

More details are available on the NOAA website at http://psbsgi1.noaa.gov:8080/PSB/EPS/SST/climohot.html

VHS footage of coral reefs available from the Greenpeace Pacific Suva office. Contact Samantha Magick on ++679 312861.

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