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Global action to save deep-sea treasures

Under embargo until 00.01 GMT 28 June 2004


New research calls for international co-operation to halt the decline of cold-water coral reefs.

Okinawa, 28th June 2004

Representatives from governments, NGOs, intergovernmental organisations and the world’s leading coral reef experts will meet on the 28th June in Okinawa, Japan, for a week of discussions and activities on protecting the world’s precious coral reefs.

A key issue will be the protection of cold-water corals, little known in comparison to their tropical cousins. For many years, research has focused largely on tropical, shallow-water corals, found in areas such as the Maldives, which support entire island communities by providing fish as sustenance for families and vital tourism-generated revenues. Nonetheless, coral species building reefs in colder and usually deeper waters play an equally important role in sustaining the delicate balance of our marine ecosystems, and they must be kept alive.

The latest research, published in a United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) report entitled ‘Cold-water coral reefs: out of sight – no longer out of mind’ shows that these corals can be found in almost all the world’s oceans and, sadly, that some have already been destroyed or scarred by trawling. The report, written by five international coral reef experts and produced with support from UNEP, WWF and the Governments of Ireland, Norway and the UK, will be released during a two-day meeting convened by ICRI (International Coral Reef Initiative) in Okinawa, Japan (3-4 July), which follows the 10th International Coral Reef Symposium (28 June-2 July).

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, sees cold-water coral reefs as one of the planet’s many ‘life-support systems’ that must be added to the conservation agenda, and expresses full support for the new report. “Cold-water coral reefs are emerging as a new piece in this vital web of life which now requires our urgent attention.”

Attracting this ‘urgent attention’ from the world’s decision-makers is a main focus of the report, which contains no less than 24 recommendations for action. Stefan Hain, Head of the UNEP Coral Reef Unit, based at UNEP-WCMC, is keen to see such measures put in place as soon as possible. “The 24 recommendations are a key feature of the report, and we will bring these to the fore at Okinawa. We need international cooperation and a concerted stakeholder effort so that we can close the gaps in our understanding of these unique ecosystems and begin to take action.”

The report’s recommendations have been designed to cover all aspects of cold-water coral protection. They are split into four clearly defined areas: i) information management and research; ii) monitoring and assessment; iii) regulations and measures; iv) international coordination and awareness. They are all expected to play an equally important part in stimulating dialogue at the forthcoming meetings and provide a basis for decisions to be taken.

‘Cold-water coral reefs: out of sight – no longer out of mind’ states that fisheries, exploration and production of oil and gas as well as the placement of pipelines and cables can have a large impact on cold-water coral reef ecosystems. Underwater studies in the NE Atlantic show reefs scarred or destroyed by bottom trawling, which can wipe out in 15 minutes a complete ecosystem that has taken thousands of years to grow. The report’s recommendations aim to strengthen dialogue with the fishing industry and other stakeholders in the development of regulations and measures for the conservation, protection and sustainable development of cold-water coral reefs in waters within and beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International, understands the need for effective management in meeting conservation goals. “At last, advanced science and world leaders recognize that the oceans' resources are finite and now require thoughtful stewardship and intelligent management. To monitor and assess marine ecosystems hundreds of miles off the coast and several hundred meters below the surface is a huge challenge; we believe the key is to share and further develop existing technologies and methods into robust, practicable and cost efficient tools, which can be applied around the world."

Mark Collins, Director of UNEP-WCMC, is aware that steps must be taken quickly to initiate conservation measures. He is confident that the report’s recommendations will make a positive contribution at the forthcoming meetings in Japan. “Cold-water coral ecosystems are fragile oases on the sea floor. Like rainforests, they are home for thousands of species and act as spawning ground and kindergarten for a large number of fish, including commercial species. Trawling these reefs is like cutting an orchard to harvest the apples. We hope that our report will promote the awareness of cold-water coral reefs throughout the world, especially in those countries which might not yet know that these unique natural treasures occur in their own waters."


Notes for editors:

The 10th International Coral Reef Symposium will be held in Okinawa, Japan from 28 June to 2 July. For more information, visit: http://www.plando.co.jp/icrs2004/

The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) meeting will be held in Okinawa, Japan from 3 to 4 July. For more information, visit: http://www.icriforum.org/

For more information relating to this press release, please contact:

Will Rogowski

Head of Marketing & Communications

UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre

219 Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0DL, UK

Tel: +44 (0) 1223 277314, Fax: +44 (0) 1223 277136

email: will.rogowski@unep-wcmc.org


Caroline Parr

Communications & Events Officer

UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre

219 Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0DL, UK

Tel: +44 (0) 1223 277314, Fax: +44 (0) 1223 277136

email: caroline.parr@unep-wcmc.org


Eric Falt

Spokesperson and Director

UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information

Nairobi, Kenya

Tel: +254 2 623292, Mobile +254 (0) 733 682656

email: eric.falt@unep.org


Nick Nuttall

Head of Media Services

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Nairobi, Kenya

Tel: +254 20 623084, Mobile +254 (0) 733 632755, Fax +254 2 623692

email: nick.nuttall@unep.org


Peter Bryant

Communications Manager

Endangered Seas Programme

WWF International, Avenue du Mont Blanc

1196 Gland, Switzerland

Tel +41 22 364 9028, Fax +41 22 364 0526

email: pbryant@wwfint.org

The large clam Acesta excavata, a common member of the Norwegian Lophelia-associated community



Further Resources

Report ‘Cold-water coral reefs: out of sight – no longer out of mind’
Download the UNEP-WCMC report.

UNEP's Cold Water Coral website

10th International Coral Reef Symposium
The symposium will be held in Okinawa, Japan from 28 June to 2 July 2004.

International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) meeting
The meeting will be held in Okinawa, Japan from 3 to 4 July 2004.


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