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  BBC 17 Sep 07
Call to protect shark-filled sea
By Phil Mercer BBC News, Sydney

WWF 18 Sep 07
Plunder or protection: WWF calls for safeguarding Coral Sea

Sydney, Australia – Recognized as one of world's last tropical marine wilderness regions, WWF is calling on the Australian government to declare the entire Coral Sea region a marine protected area.

The Coral Sea stretches over 780,000km2 of ocean — from the outer boundary of Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to the South Pacific Islands of Vanuatu, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands.

“The Coral Sea is still remarkably pristine and attracts international visitors who pay a premium to see the reef’s vast populations of white tip and grey reef sharks, hammerheads, manta rays and other sea creatures”, said Richard Leck, WWF-Australia's Marine Policy Manager.

“We are very concerned that illegal fishers will raid the Coral Sea reefs, mainly for shark fins for the Asian market. This threatens both the future of these fish in Australian waters and a burgeoning marine wildlife tourism industry worth millions.”

Marine research estimates reveal that the Coral Sea tourism is worth as much as US$9.4 million a year.

“The resident population of sharks at Osprey Reef, the main dive site in the Coral Sea, is 40 animals, making each shark worth over US$210,000 per year," said Richard Fitzpatrick, a leading Australian marine biologist and shark researcher. "When you compare this figure to US$52.50, the asking price for shark catch by local fisheries, it is more than evident that Australian reef sharks are more valuable alive than dead.”

Currently, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef shark populations — the white tip and grey reef shark — show a decline in abundance by 80% and 97% respectively outside areas that are not effectively protected, sounding a warning for the neighbouring reef shark populations of the Coral Sea.

“Global numbers of oceanic predators have plummeted 90% in population since 1950, " said Leck. "We only have to look in our own backyard to see the severe population decline and shark population collapse that is occurring in oceans all over the world. We must act now to save the Coral Sea from a similar fate."

In addition to the threat of over fishing, the Coral Sea has also been earmarked for future oil and gas exploration and, with climate change increasing water temperatures, the Coral Sea reefs are also highly susceptible to coral bleaching.

“The Coral Sea presents us with a unique opportunity to safeguard one of the world’s few remaining pristine marine regions," he added. "If we act quickly we can protect one of our most precious and fragile resources before irreversible damage is done.”

BBC 17 Sep 07
Call to protect shark-filled sea
By Phil Mercer BBC News, Sydney

Conservationists are urging the Australian government to protect the Coral Sea, one of its last tropical marine wildernesses.

The sea was recently declared a "predator diversity hotspot" because of its abundant shark populations. Campaigners fear the region could be targeted by illegal shark fishermen as well as oil and gas prospectors.

The Coral Sea comprises 780,000sq km, and borders the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia's east coast.

Environmental groups have described the Coral Sea as a stunning blue water highway full of oceanic predators. The area is a haven for hammerhead and white-tipped sharks, as well as manta rays.

Illegal fishing

Wildlife groups want the government in Canberra to give it full environmental protection and create what would be the world's largest marine park.

Gilly Llewellyn, from the conservation charity WWF, says the region is likely to face serious threats in the future. "It could potentially be targeted by illegal fishermen," she says.

"Sharks are increasingly rare in our oceans today. These are the sort of lions and tigers of the sea and unfortunately they are prized for their shark fin, which commands a high price in the Asian marketplace.

"So illegal fishers looking for sharks for their fin are becoming increasingly bold. Without formal protection for the Coral Sea we are afraid it might be vulnerable to that in the future."

An Australian government spokesman said that calls for the Coral Sea to be protected were being investigated by a specialist panel.

The area is considered to be one of the most spectacular diving destinations anywhere, largely because there are so many sharks in the water. Campaigners, though, are asking just how long will it be before this pristine eco system faces potentially destructive challenges from the outside world.

Related articles on global marine issues and sharks fins
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