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By Harlyne Joku

DENPASSAR, Bali, Indonesia (October 24, 2000 – The National/PINA Nius Online)---Recent surveys and anecdotal accounts indicate that most reefs in Papua New Guinea are still in very good condition, a PNG official told the 9th International Coral Reef symposium in Bali, Indonesia.

The symposium is the major international conference pertaining to reefs, with 1,500 scientists, environmental group and government representatives from all over the world taking part.

Papua New Guinea's Marine and Wetlands Officer from the Department of Environment and Conservation, Mr. Vagi Rei, said most reefs surveyed in the past few years have had a relatively high coral cover and little damage from human activity.

"Over 40 percent coral cover is common, but this varies with location, reef type, depth and other variables. It also appears that total cover of algae above 20 per cent is not uncommon, on apparently healthy reefs in PNG," Mr. Rei said in his report of the Status of Coral Reefs in PNG.

He added that subsistence fishing is a predominant human activity on PNG reefs. In general, reef fish populations are thought to be harvested below sustainable levels.

There is, however, evidence of over fishing around Port Moresby and other large coastal centers. There is also good evidence of substantial over fishing of sea cucumbers, trochus, green snail and clams in many locations, Mr. Rei said.

But he warned that pressure on reef resources in PNG will certainly increase as the population continues to grow, especially in large coastal towns.

The main issue being discussed by most participants in Asia and the Pacific is coral bleaching.

Coral reef bleaching has been reported from numerous locations around PNG since 1996. It appears that the 1998 bleaching has also occurred outside the El Niño periods, Mr. Rei said.

The most severe and widespread bleaching event in PNG appears to have occurred during 1996-1997. Milne Bay province was most affected, with one study reporting 54 percent of corals exhibiting bleaching. Mr. Rei added that most other areas had lower level of bleaching and good recovery has been reported in most areas.

He further said that there is an immediate need to build scientific and management capacity related to coral reefs in PNG and programs are urgently needed to protect the current capacity and assessment, monitoring and management.

Mr. Rei said that there is a need to support the training of future marine scientists and managers.

Earlier, Indonesia's Minister of State for Environment, Dr. Sonny Keraf, told the symposium that coral reefs in many locations in the world have been seriously degraded over the past decades due to various causes, in particular human induced stress.

Dr. Keraf said that it is estimated that 10 percent of the world's coral reefs have already been seriously degraded and a much greater percentage is currently threatened. He made the remarks when officiating the symposium at the Bali International Conference Center.

"Over fishing, destructive fishing practices, pollution, siltation, and global climate change are all seen as threats to the beauty of coral reefs and their services to this and future generations of human beings," Dr. Keraf said.

He added that the problem is not just environmental but economic. Dr. Keraf said an estimate puts the global value of goods and services from coral reef at about US$ 375 billion every year.

"It is clear that degradation of these ecosystems can have far-reaching economic and social implications," Dr. Keraf said.

He added that coral reefs are high points of biological diversity but it is only recently that intensive scientific attention has focused on them.

Dr. Keraf stressed that the pressure on reefs is huge with half a billion people living within 100 miles of a coral reef. He added that many others in developing countries are poor and heavily depend on reef resources in sustaining their livelihood.

He said there is a regional need of sustainable coral reef development and management for mutual benefits.

He added that there is a global need for interdisciplinary and international monitoring and assessment of direct human impacts and global climate change on coral reef productivity, biological diversity and ecosystem function.

Ms. Joku is attending the International Coral Reefs Symposium after winning a World Resources Institute/PINA Pacific Forum of Environmental Journalists Fellowship.

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