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ENVIRONMENT REPORT – March 7, 2003: Coral Reef Systems Threatened - 2003-03-06

This is the VOA Special English Environment Report.

Environmental experts are concerned about the world’s coral reefs. A recent study found that twenty-seven percent of all coral reef systems have been destroyed. Experts believe higher ocean temperatures and activities by people are to blame. The study warns that sixty percent of the reef systems could be permanently lost if nothing is done to stop the problem.

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

Corals are found in warm 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 can be to important to local and national economies. The reefs also protect coastal communities in storms.

The World Wildlife Fund paid for the independent report. The group warns that the destruction of coral reefs will result in severe losses to the world economy. Peter Bryant works with the Endangered Seas Program of the World Wildlife Fund. Mister Bryant notes that most of the reef systems are in developing countries. He says the presence of coral reefs produces money for many economies.

Coral reefs support fishing activities and protect inland waterways. They also have become popular stops for travelers. Many people like to swim underwater to see coral reefs. Mister Bryant estimates that the world’s coral reefs are worth thirty-thousand-million dollars a year.

The largest in the world is the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of northeastern Australia. Coral reefs also are found in waters off the Philippines, Indonesia, the Caribbean islands, the United States and South America.

Corals are even important for medical research. Mister Bryant says more than half of all new cancer drug studies involve sea creatures. For example, he notes there is a reef in the Caribbean with organisms that form the basis of the AIDS drug A-Z-T.

The World Wildlife Fund say coral reefs should be declared protected areas. That way, human activities could be more closely supervised. The group says governments must take responsibility for the future of their coastal communities.

This VOA Special English Environment Report was written by George Grow.