Less than 2 percent of the world’s tropical coral reefs are properly protected from illegal fishing, mining or pollution despite government promises of wider safeguards, an international study showed on Thursday.
“The figures are depressing,” said Camilo Mora, a scientist at Dalhousie University in Canada and lead author of the study, carried out in New Zealand by researchers from seven nations.
“Many countries create marine protected areas and then forget about them,” he said
Lack of protection may mean a further shrinking of reefs worldwide, from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean.
Reefs are key spawning grounds, are home to species from clown fish to sharks, protect coasts from erosion and also draw scuba-diving tourists.
“Less than 2 percent are extended protection complete with regulations on extraction, poaching and other major threats,” the report said.
Overall, 18.7 percent of the area covered by tropical reefs was within marine protected areas — but most of the conservation was only on paper.
“Lines on the map are not enough to protect the world’s coral reefs,” Mora said.
Many governments have promised wider conservation of nature from reefs to rainforests, partly to help meet a U.N. goal of slowing an accelerating rate of species loss by 2012.
“While management (of marine protected areas) varies worldwide, it was particularly low in areas of high coral density such as the Indo-Pacific and the Caribbean,” said Ransom Myers, a researcher at Dalhousie University.
The study did not name the nations performing worst or best in reef protection. Mora said, however, that Australia had successfully increased protection for much of the Great Barrier Reef.
The scientists reached their figures by building a database of protected areas from 102 countries then comparing it with the extent of reefs, partly mapped by satellites.
They then surveyed more than 1,000 managers of protected areas and scientists to gauge the conservation performance.