05 February 2009

Status of Coral Reefs: Singapore and beyond

I learnt a lot today about coral reefs in Southeast Asia and Singapore, and about the challenges of coastal management in our region. And I suspect there's way a lot more to the issues than what I glimpsed today.Karenne Tun, one of the authors of the Chapter on Southeast Asia for The Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008 Report, gave a very sobering summary.

Among the thought-provoking issues:
  • While coral reefs accounted for less than 1% of the world area, 10% of the world population depend on them.
  • While Southeast Asia accounted for less than 10% of global area, 30% of the world's reefs are found on our shores. It is also the location of the Coral Triangle, the richest centre of marine biological diversity.
  • 60% of Southeast Asia's population live within 60km of the coast, the highest proportion in the world. For Singapore of course, that would probably be 100% of us, though most Singaporeans don't think much about this.
  • The main threats to Southeast Asian reefs is overfishing. (In Singapore, from the paper, the main threats are sedimentation, marine-based pollution and coastal development)
This was one of the charts showing the potentially devastating impacts of global warming on our reefs.And this charts shows 100% of Singapore's reefs were threatened. Later on, a member of the audience asked what this meant. Prof Chou explained that this meant none of our reefs were under legal protection.Karenne ended with this photo which I couldn't see (or photograph) very well. Apparently there is a polar bear swimming in the reef.

It was then quite inspiring and educational to listen to Dr. Chua Thia-Eng who shared about the really Big Issues facing Southeast Asian coasts and shores.
If I thought things were bad for our shores, they are even more depressing elsewhere.Yet, Dr Chua shared how PEMSEA had over more than a decade worked relentlessly to develop and initiate an integrated approach to sustainable coastal development. Some of his wise words that stuck in my mind were thoughts such as: "Conservation is not just data collection, but also resource management and managing human behaviour". He shared that just putting in money is not enough. In fact, the more money was given, the less effect was achieved. It was more important to get stakeholders to participate and to prepare the participants and the people who need to do the job.

With successful demonstration models, Dr Chua shared how PEMSEA has slowly but surely spread sustainable management methods throughout Southeast Asia. To a question on whether Singapore needed integrated coastal management, Dr Chua suggested that Singapore first needed to see beyond our territorial waters. "Singapore is not just an island" he said. Indeed, we are connected by the sea, marine activities and trade as well as other links with other peoples throughout Southeast Asia.

It was certainly a lot to think about. And very inspiring to hear of how the tide has literally been turned on some seriously scary issues in our region.

NParks Biodiversity Centre as always puts together such a great event.There was a great pamphlet with all the key issues, here's the lovely November with it. I've been promised the soft copy which I hope to upload as soon as I get it.And for the scavenger conservationists who are too cheap to buy dinner, there's always a great meal to scrounge. With NON-plastic utensils too! We are impressed.

And it was also great to catch up with many old friends whom I haven't seen in the longest time.

More links

More about PEMSEA Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia

from the International Year of the Reef 2008 website
The Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008 was released in Washington, DC in December 2008. The survey of the health of the world's coral reefs identifies which reefs are recovering and which are degrading.

The report shows that climate change impacts, for example, bleaching and ocean acidification, and man-made pressures are now the major threats to reefs worldwide - with all reefs effectively under threat of major losses. The report predicts that mankind has about a decade to reduce carbon emissions or there will be major losses of reefs through ocean acidification impacts.
The full report is downloadable from The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) website.

Chapter 9 details the status of reefs in Southeast Asia (launches PDF file). Highlights include:
  • Between 2004 and 2008, the condition of coral reefs improved in Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore but declined in Indonesia and Malaysia (however, many reefs were not assessed);
  • Coral reef area estimates of just under 100 000 km2 for the region are probably a gross overestimate; recent GIS analysis in Thailand and Singapore shows reef area is approximately 10 times lower, possibly because non-reef sea areas were previously included;
  • Losses of seagrass habitats are estimated at 30 – 60% in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore; but largely un-assessed in other SEA countries;
  • More than 50% of the region’s mangroves have been lost, with 10% of the losses occurring between 1993 and 2003;
  • An assessment of MPAs of East Asia in 2005–2007 showed the number of MPAs with coral reefs increased from 178 in 2003 to 403 in 2007;
This "Status of coral Reefs of the World: 2008" is under the auspices of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRNM) of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI).

More media articles about this Report, and previous Reports by the GCRNM.

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