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Scientists Trying to Save Coral Triangle
By Wendy Heller, December 9, 2007 @ 02:00 AM (EST)
Source: Washingtonpost.com
For time beyond memory on this remote bay of neon fish and underwater gardens, people have avoided the "masalai," taboo waters, where a monster octopus might lurk or spirits dwell in coral caves. Now it's science that wants no-go zones in Kimbe Bay, and it's because of a new fear.

From the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean to the central Pacific, global warming and the sea's rising temperatures have been "bleaching" and killing the world's coral reefs.

It's here in Kimbe Bay, and in the surrounding triangle of sea stretching from Indonesia up to the Philippines and down to the Solomon Islands, that the strange, beautiful form of life known as coral may someday have to make its last stand.

"The Coral Triangle is going to hold out, and it's tremendously important that it does, because what's holding out is the center of world marine diversity," said marine biologist Charlie Veron, a world-renowned expert on reef-building coral.

The region, epitomized by this gorgeous, volcano-ringed bay on the Pacific's western fringe, shelters more than half of all the world's coral and 75 percent of its hundreds of species, from graceful fan and sprawling table-shaped types, to staghorn, elkhorn and brain coral. Half the world's species of reef fish swim its waters.

Over eons, Veron said, the triangle "has exported this diversity to the rest of the world." In other words, it's coral's homeland.

Veron, Australian author of the three-volume "Corals of the World," spoke with The Associated Press at the U.N. climate conference on the resort island of Bali, where Indonesian and other regional governments this week were announcing a new partnership to protect the Coral Triangle.

The U.S.-based environmental group Nature Conservancy, working with Veron and other foreign and Papua New Guinean scientists, is leading the way here on New Britain island, with an ambitious plan to establish 15 restricted zones in the 3,300-square-mile Kimbe Bay.

It's one of the first plans for "marine protected areas" dealing specifically with climate change.

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