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CONSERVATION

Alarm over shrinking coral reefs in South China Sea

Study reveals 80pc decline and 'grim' levels of damage and loss, with economic boom blamed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 December, 2012, 5:43am
 

China's economic boom has seen its coral reefs shrink by at least 80 per cent over the past 30 years, a joint Australian study found yesterday, 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 Chinese and South China Sea reefs showed alarming degradation.

"We found that coral abundance has declined by at least 80 per cent 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 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 per cent to around 20 per cent within the past 10 to 15 years."

Coastal development, pollution and overfishing linked to the country's aggressive economic expansion were the major drivers, the authors said, describing a "grim picture of decline, degradation and destruction".

They continued: "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."

Coral loss in the South China Sea - where reefs stretch across about 30,000 square kilometres - 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, studies have shown.

Such destruction has led to widespread local frustration and protests, some of which have succeeded in getting proposed new factories and facilities cancelled or postponed.

The government has laid out a road map to transform the mainland's development mode to one that is more environmentally friendly and less dependent on headlong economic growth.

The South China Sea is strategically significant, home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in resources.

Beijing claims most of the sea including waters near the shores of its neighbours. Rival claimants include Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

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