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Forum paints dire outlook for the future of coral reefs

  • JAPAN NEWS-YOMIURI

    Remains of coral are scattered in the Sekisei Lagoon off Taketomijima island in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan on April 23. Mass coral bleaching and deaths were confirmed in the lagoon last year.

Japan’s Environment Ministry has prepared an emergency declaration over coral deaths caused by rising sea temperatures from global warming.

In an emergency countermeasures meeting of experts held in Okinawa prefecture on Sunday, the ministry inked out the declaration, which states that coral could die out in the waters around Japan by the 2070s.

The ministry concluded in the declaration that it will mainly promote the development of new technologies to transplant and cultivate coral, and designate coral reef areas to prioritize conservation. It will also promote measures against global warming.

Experts and people engaged in the tourism and fishery industries expressed a sense of urgency over the bleaching and death of coral, seeking early action to conserve coral reefs, which are facing a mounting risk of extinction.

“At the current pace of global warming, there could be major coral bleaching every year all over the world,” an expert said at the emergency measures meeting. Another said, “It’s been predicted the coral habitat will disappear in the waters near Japan in the 2070s.”

Reports offering a grim outlook for the future of the coral habitat were presented one after another at the meeting, which was attended by over 50 experts.

According to an Environment Ministry survey, more than 90 percent of the coral in the Sekisei Lagoon in the prefecture, the largest such reef in the nation, has become bleached, and about 70 percent of it died in 2016. Sea temperatures rose last year due to global warming, and few typhoons approached the area, which kept cold and warm sea water separated.

The lagoon experienced mass bleaching in 1998 and 2007. The experts said last year’s bleaching was the worst ever recorded in the lagoon.

“We must take some action as soon as possible,” said meeting chairman Makoto Tsuchiya, a professor emeritus at the University of the Ryukyus.

Those in the tourism industry are concerned that the mass bleaching and death of coral could deal a blow to the industry, given that coral is an important tourism resource.

“It’s become difficult to find healthy coral in the Sekisei Lagoon,” said Tomoya Takeuchi, 35, secretary general of the Yaeyama Diving Association. The lagoon, where many tropical fish live, has attracted divers from around the world.

A 39-year-old executive of a diving shop on Ishigakijima island said he is concerned that death of coral could also affect other marine life.

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