China’s economic boom savages coral reefs: study – ‘Coral abundance has declined by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years’Posted by Jim at Wednesday, January 02, 2013
Sydney, 27 December 2012 (AFP) – China's economic boom has seen its coral reefs shrink by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years, a joint Australian study found Thursday, with researchers describing "grim" levels of damage and loss.
Scientists from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology said their survey of mainland China and South China Sea reefs showed alarming degradation.
"We found that coral abundance has declined by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years on coastal fringing reefs along the Chinese mainland and adjoining Hainan Island," said the study, published in the latest edition of the journal Conservation Biology.
"On offshore atolls and archipelagos claimed by six countries in the South China Sea, coral cover has declined from an average of greater than 60 percent to around 20 percent within the past 10-15 years," it added.
Coastal development, pollution and overfishing linked to the Asian giant's aggressive economic expansion were the major drivers, the authors said, describing a "grim picture of decline, degradation and destruction".
"China's ongoing economic expansion has exacerbated many wicked environmental problems, including widespread habitat loss due to coastal development, unsustainable levels of fishing and pollution," the study said.
Coral loss in the South China Sea -- where reefs stretch across some 30,000 square kilometres (12,000 square miles) -- was compounded by poor governance stemming from competing territorial claims.
Some marine parks aimed at conservation had been established but study author Terry Hughes said they were too small and too far apart to arrest the decline in coral cover.
"The window of opportunity to recover the reefs of the South China Sea is closing rapidly, given the state of degradation revealed in this study," he said.
More than 30 years of unbridled economic growth has left large parts of China environmentally devastated, with the nation suffering from some of the most severe air, water and land pollution in the world, global studies have shown. […]
Contact: Professor Terry Hughes, CoECRS and JCU, +61 (0)400 720 164
Julian Cribb, CoECRS media, +61 (0) 418 639 245
Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, +61 (0)7 4781 4822 or 0418 892449
27 December 2012
China’s coral reefs have suffered a devastating 80 per cent decline in recent decades, driven mainly by the country’s unrestrained economic development, according to a new international scientific study.
The first comprehensive survey of the state of corals along mainland China and in the South China Sea reports a grim picture of decline, degradation, and destruction resulting from coastal development, pollution, and overfishing.
A new study by Professor Terry Hughes and Matthew Young of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, and Dr Hui Huang of the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, published in the prestigious journal Conservation Biology describes the situation as a ‘wicked problem’ – meaning it has no easy solutions.
“A wicked problem is one that is very hard to solve without having a whole lot of other foreseen and unforeseen consequences to people, industries and to the environment itself,” Prof. Hughes explains.
“China’s ongoing economic expansion has exacerbated many wicked environmental problems, including widespread habitat loss due to coastal development, unsustainable levels of fishing, and pollution,” the report states.
“We found that coral abundance has declined by at least 80% over the past 30 years on coastal fringing reefs along the Chinese mainland and adjoining Hainan Island. On offshore atolls and archipelagos claimed by 6 countries in the South China Sea, coral cover has declined from an average of >60% to around 20% within the past 10–15 years,” it says
“So far, climate change has affected these reefs far less than coastal development, pollution, overfishing, and destructive fishing practices. Ironically, these widespread declines in the condition of reefs are unfolding as China’s research and reef-management capacity are rapidly expanding.”
The corals of the South China Sea region cover an area of 30,000 square kilometres, have high conservation values, and support the livelihoods of tens of thousands of fishers. The fact that some reefs are claimed by several different countries makes conservation and management particularly difficult.
“Typically, when a coral reef degrades it is taken over by seaweeds – and from there, experience has shown, it is very hard to return it to its natural coral cover. The window of opportunity to recover the reefs of the South China Sea is closing rapidly, given the state of degradation revealed in this study,” Prof. Hughes says.
The scientists conclude that the loss of coral cover in the South China Sea, as elsewhere, is due mainly to a failure of governance on the part of the nations responsible for the marine environment.
China and other countries in the region have recently established a number of marine parks, but they are too small and too far apart to prevent the decline in coral cover, he adds.
“Governing wicked problems becomes more challenging as they increase in extent from local to regional or global scales, particularly where institutions are weak or nonexistent,” the scientists caution. Cases such as the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by six different countries, highlight the dilemma.
“There is no quick fix to a wicked problem as complex as securing a sustainable future for coral reefs in China and the South China Sea,” they add.
“We suggest that governance of China’s coastal reefs can be improved by increasing public awareness, by legal and institutional reform that promotes progressive change, by providing financial support for training of reef scientists and managers, expanding monitoring of coral reef status and dynamics, and by enforcing existing regulations that protect reef ecosystems.”
They suggest that China’s centralised system of government is well-placed to quickly rescue the region’s imperilled coral reefs in collaboration with neighbouring countries – but this will require innovative leadership and strong public support.
Their article “The Wicked Problem of China’s Disappearing Coral Reefs” by Terry P. Hughes, Hui Huang and Matthew A.L. Young appears in the online edition of Conservation Biology.
Map of the S China Sea coral regions at: http://www.coralcoe.org.au/