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Multi Million Dollar Backing for International Coral Reef Action Network Gives Big Boost to Coastal Communities and Wildlife

Johannesburg/Nairobi, 1 September 2002 - The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Foundation said they would be giving a total of $ 3 million to support the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN).

This funding will be targeted at the Mesoamerican reef, the largest barrier reef system in the Atlantic Ocean and the second largest in the world.

The reef system, which stretches nearly 450 miles from the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula to the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras, is home to more than 70 species of stony coral and over 500 species of fish including the endangered whale shark which is the largest fish in the world.

Today, at a meeting in Johannesburg entitled 'People and Reefs: A Partnership for Prosperity', it was also announced that ICRAN's efforts to conserve reefs and develop alternative, less-environmentally damaging, livelihoods for those who depend on them, will be expanded into South Asia and the Arabian Seas Regions.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said:" This important cash injection for coral reefs will allow ICRAN to expand and develop its vital work. These wondrous and fragile habitats are under threat world-wide from activities that include over-fishing and unsustainable fishing practices such as dynamite and cyanide fishing. They are also at risk from insensitive tourism and climate change. So I welcome this funding from the United States and the UN Foundation. This will surely encourage others, including governments and the private sector, to back ICRAN's important and vital work"

ICRAN was set up in 2001 in response to a call to action by the coral reef community. Its work was given further urgency when Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, urged the WSSD in his "Towards a Sustainable Future" speech on 14 May 2002 to address the threats to coral reefs ".75 per cent of marine fishes are fished to capacity and 60 per cent of the coral reefs endangered. We must reverse this process, preserving as many species as possible while helping people who currently depend on destructive and unsustainable practices to make a transition to more sustainable ways of earning their living".

Kristian Teleki, Acting Director of ICRAN, said 'A recent study showed that a healthy coral reef is worth 75% more than destructive and unsustainable fishing. We cannot afford to lose such valuable resources for generations of people who depend on reefs for their day to day existence. ICRAN is listening to the voices and the needs of these communities, especially those in Small Island Developing States, in order to help them mange their resources in the face of global declining reef health."

At today's event an extension of the ICRAN partnership to include UNEP's Division of Technology, Industry and Economics was also launched. This will address the links between coral reefs and tourism and promote sustainable tourism in developing countries, building on the World Ecotourism Summit in Quebec earlier this year.

Robert Hepworth, Deputy Director of UNEP's Division of Environmental Conventions, said:" All major coral reef areas in the world have witnessed a huge increase in the number of visitors rising, in many cases ten fold, over the past 10 to 15 years to many millions of tourists annually. This can bring in valuable income to communities living close to reef systems but unless this tourism is managed and handled sensitively, it can wreak enormous damage on reef systems with corals damaged by boat anchors to people collecting corals as trinkets or souvenirs. I urge the tourism industry to take these issues on board and invest in coral reef systems so as to guarantee their health and beauty for future generations of tourists, such as divers and snorkelers, and local people".

Mr Toepfer added:" Other discussions taking place here at WSSD will also have a crucial bearing on the future of the world's coral reefs. The summit's plan of implementation contains provisions for tackling fisheries subsidies. Currently we have too many boats chasing too few fish. Corals, being nurseries for fish, can often be the targets of these heavily subsidized fleets. We welcome the efforts being made by countries here to deal with this issue which will benefit corals but also communities in developing countries who rely on fish stocks as a vital source of protein".

Notes to Editors: ICRAN was launched in March 2001. It is planned, under an initial four year programme, to transform reefs in key oceans and seas into beacons of good practice with the lessons learnt on protecting and managing them for the benefit of local people, wildlife and tourists exported to other threatened reefs in the world. For details of the launch please go to www.unep.org click on media room, click on press releases and scroll down to March 2001. For more information on ICRAN and its partners go to www.icran.org

For More Information Please Contact: Mr. Eric Falt, UNEP Spokesperson\Director, Division of Communications and Public Information in Nairobi on tel: (254-2) 623292, email: Eric.Falt@unep.org, or Mr. Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 27 11 (0) 72 533 8239

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UNEP News Release 2002/59