International Conference on Coral Reefs

By Cynthia Kirk

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Experts say pollution and climate change have destroyed more than twenty-five percent of the world's coral reefs. They say most of the remaining coral reefs could be dead in about twenty years unless urgent measures are taken.

Last week, more than one-thousand scientists and environmental experts from fifty-two countries met in Bali, Indonesia. They held the Ninth International Coral Reef Symposium. They discussed conditions of coral reefs around the world.

Corals are large groups of small organisms called polyps. These polyps live within a cup-like skeleton made of a substance called limestone.

Corals are found in warm, tropical waters. Millions of corals grow together to form coral reefs. Coral reefs are some of the oldest natural systems in the world. The reefs support many kinds of sea life. They are important to some local and national economies. Many people visit the areas to swim underwater to see the brightly colored coral reefs. And the reefs protect coastal communities from severe storms.

Coral reefs are found in waters near Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Caribbean islands, the United States and South America. Some of the worst affected areas are the Maldives and Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean and the islands of Indonesia.

Scientists say corals are threatened by pollution, destructive fishing activities and disease. They say the most serious threat to coral reefs is rising ocean temperatures. This causes a damaging condition called whitening. Higher than normal water temperatures cause the corals to expel the small plants they feed on that give them their bright colors. If the water stays too warm, the corals die.

Experts say the El Nino weather condition two years ago severely damaged the reefs because it caused water temperatures to rise.

Australian scientist Clive Wilkinson says the loss of the reefs would harm thousands of fish and other sea life that need corals to survive. He says it would also affect the fishing industry and millions of people around the world.

Experts say coral reefs can survive if countries establish protective areas and reduce harmful activities. They say the worst affected countries must start to deal seriously with the problem.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.

Voice of America Special English