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Climate Change Endangers Coral Triangle

Climate change could wipe out an ocean wilderness said to be the world's most diverse by the end of the century if nations do not drastically cut emissions, the environmental group WWF said.

Rising water temperatures, sea levels and acidity in the vast region threaten to destroy reefs in Southeast Asia’s Coral Triangle, a region labelled the ocean's answer to the Amazon rainforest, the WWF report said.

Collapse of the reefs would send food production in the region plummeting by 80 percent and imperil the livelihoods of over 100 million people, forcing many to move from coastal villages to teeming cities, it warned.

"If we don't do anything, then the reefs are going to be gone by the end of this century and the impact on food security and livelihoods will be very significant," WWF Coral Triangle Initiative Network head Lida Pet Soede told AFP.

"Some of the locations in the Coral Triangle are really important areas for all sorts of fish. The migration of tuna and turtles that spawn in the Coral Triangle are not going to have a next generation."

Saving the Coral Triangle will require countries to commit to deep cuts in carbon gas emissions when they gather for global climate talks in the Danish capital Copenhagen in December to work out a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.

Cuts of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 would be needed to avert the worst effects on the region, home to more than half the world's coral reefs and a lynchpin for ocean life in the region.

Heat-trapping carbon gases -- notably from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas -- are blamed for warming Earth's atmosphere and driving changes to weather patterns.
Local communities and governments will also have to curb over-fishing and pollution, the WWF report said.

"If you continue down the path of the over-exploitation of resources, even if you get an incredible reduction in emissions there will still be a threat," WWF climate campaigner Richard Leck said.

The report comes as ministers and officials from over 70 countries meet in the Indonesian city of Manado for the World Ocean Conference, the first global meeting on the relationship between oceans and climate change.

Nations at the conference hope to pass a joint declaration aimed at influencing the direction of the Copenhagen talks in December.

A concurrent meeting will also see leaders from the six Coral Triangle nations -- Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, East Timor, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea -- pass a joint plan on conserving the region.

WWF campaigner Leck said any agreement to save the Coral Triangle would help limit damage to the region, which despite gloomy forecasts would likely be among the reef regions slowest to be ravaged by climate change.

"The Coral Triangle is potentially more resilient than other coral areas around the world and what is amazing is the level of political commitment we are seeing this week," he said.