Britain wants UN body to save reefs

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN PLANS to lead an international effort to save the world's coral reefs, which have come under severe threat from rising sea temperatures and pollution, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, will announce today.

The UK is to press for all the scientific work on coral andother ocean problems, currently scattered between many institutions and groups, to be brought together in a single, powerful UN body. That way, Mr Prescott believes, there will be a better chance of seeing just how bad the situation is and acting effectively to prevent it worsening.

Coral reefs need the most urgent action, he believes, because they are "like the canary in the coal mine" - the first indicators of serious trouble in the sea's life support system.

A month ago scientists at the international climate conference in Buenos Aires revealed that huge areas of reefs, vital for fishing and tourism, had been killed off by this year's unprecedentedly high temperatures: 1998 is now certain to be world's hottest year on record.

Coral reefs are home to 25 per cent of all marine fish species but take up only 0.3 per cent of the globe's total ocean surface area.

The reefs died off this year because although they are the sea's richest habitat they are also its most vulnerable one, extremely sensitive to temperature changes and environmental pollution.

Mr Prescott, who was a long-time marine pollution campaigner while a backbench MP, now intends to put into the cause of the oceans the political energy that enabled him to broker last year's Kyoto agreement on global warming.

He wants a powerful UN body to take an "umbrella approach" to marine problems and wants steps taken to launch it at the forthcoming meeting of the UN's Commission on Sustainable Development, to be held in New York in April.

He is to set out his ideas in a preliminary meeting of delegates, which is being held in London today.

"The evidence is that 10 per cent of the world's coral reefs may already be degraded beyond recovery, and 60 per cent may now face a medium to high threat of destruction," Mr Prescott said last night.

"I want to bring this home to people. I want to concentrate their minds.

"The UN has all sorts of individual bodies concerned with the sea but they are very departmental. I want to bring together a single umbrella body to tackle the threats to the oceans from global warming and pollution.

"We need a combination of research and political will."