Shocked researchers have found the colourful living structures described as the foundation of one of the planet’s most desirable tourist attractions are either dead or dying.
The warning about the plight of reefs that draw divers from across the globe to the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean archipelago comes from Biosphere Expeditions, the non-profit wildlife research and conservation organisation.
It has been studying Maldives’ reefs since 2011 and says its latest findings reveal “an ever increasing spiral of coral death and reef decline”.
Following last year’s now notorious coral-bleaching event – a disaster witnessed at many other reefs around the globe – comes even more devastating news in 2017, with the Maldives’ reefs showing “signs of death and destruction everywhere”, say Biosphere Expeditions.
Its expedition leader Catherine Edsell claims that dredging and dumping of millions of tonnes of sand to build tourist islands on the Maldives is smothering the corals and killing them.
Among the other threats to the corals are pollution, ocean warming, overfishing and ocean acidification.
Although studies show that corals can recover over a 12-15 year period, this depends on there being no other pressures such as “sedimentation, ocean acidification and other human impacts created by greed, short-sightedness and ignorance”, Biosphere Expeditions said in a statement today.
It describes Maldives’ corals as the “rainforests of the seas” in the way they are the basis for a multitude of species and the bedrock of the islands’ fisheries, culture, economy and well-being.
But goes on to warn: “The corals that are the foundation of the Maldives archipelago are dead or dying, following the Great Barrier Reef down a path of catastrophic decline, death and destruction.”
An estimated 1.5 million tourists visited the archipelago last year to swim in the blue seas, enjoy the white sands and take part in some of the best diving anywhere on Earth, with 187 different types of coral providing sanctuary for 1,100 species of fish, five species of marine turtles and 21 species of whale and dolphins.
Dr Matthias Hammer, founder and executive director of Biosphere Expeditions, detailing the report of its latest survey, warned today: “Without this coral foundation, you do not have an economy, a country or a basis to live on, and the Maldives are in the process of destroying this foundation of their survival as a nation.”
He goes on to warn: “Unless the Maldives, its people and its government wake up to the reality of what sad and terrible things are also happening to their reefs, which are after all the basis for everything in the country, including the very country itself, then greed, ignorance, apathy and short-sightedness will win the day and kill the reefs – and with it much of the country’s economy and the well-being of its citizens.”
The Maldives government showed its concerns for its natural marine heritage last year, warning it was considering closing off its spectacular reefs after last year’s coral bleaching event.
As the Great Barrier Reef was showing horrendous signs of distress – an event that led one commentator to pen its obituary – the Maldives’ environment minister told the Financial Times that it was prepared to close its reefs if there was too much damage as it awaited scientific reports.
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