Conventions and Coral Reefs: the Foreword by Klaus Töpfer



Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world - they occupy less than 1% of the ocean floor, but are inhabited by at least 25% of all marine species. Thirty-two of the 33 animal phyla are found on coral reefs, compared with nine in tropical rain forests. Due to their unique complexity and diversity, coral reefs can provide food and livelihood opportunities to millions of people. They are vital for small-scale and artisanal fisheries, producing 10 percent of the world's fishing harvest. Further, they are hosts to a wide range of organisms that may hold the key to future medical advances. They also provide services such as shoreline protection and recreational opportunities, making their importance for the economies of coastal communities and entire nations immeasurable.

However, coral reefs have come under increasing threat around the world, particularly during the last decades, and mostly due to anthropogenic impacts. Roughly one third of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed or highly degraded. The present rate of extinction on coral reefs is estimated to be 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate without human interference. Coral reefs are threatened by increased sedimentation, euthrophication, over harvesting of fish and other reef based resources, and pollution. In addition, bleaching and mass mortality events caused by climate change appear to have become more frequent as well as more severe, posing a major threat to coral reefs world wide.

Action is being taken to halt and turn back this negative trend. A framework is provided in the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Plan of Implementation, which sets out targets for the sustainable management of our natural resources, as agreed by the Governments in Johannesburg in September 2002 (see summary on page 1). A global WSSD partnership - ICRAN (the International Coral Reef Action Network) - has already delivered tangible improvements at reef level, which benefited from generous funding by the UN Foundation. However, we need to create a strong resource base, backed by governmental, non-governmental and private funds, to build further on this foundation. Achieving the aims of WSSD also requires support from the other Multilateral Environmental Agreements, programmes, partnerships and networks included in this brochure, which summarizes their area of work, how they relate to coral reefs, as well as current and future activities.

This brochure is intended to serve both as a source of information and as a tool for identifying synergies and needs. Efficient and coordinated work between the organizations included here, as well as Governments and other bodies, is essential for sustainable development, to secure a future for coral reefs and the people that depend on them. This brochure can contribute to the process.

Klaus Töpfer
Executive Director

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