Experts say 70% of nation’s coral reefs are damaged

damaged A diver clears a net stuck on a coral reef in the Mergui Archipelago. Photo - Thanda Ko Gyi

07 Oct 19 - Source: Myanmar Times - Local and foreign experts have warned that the country's coral reef cover has declined by 70 percent, but the actual figure is difficult to ascertain because of a lack of data.

During a recent meeting to come up with a national action plan to protect sharks and manta rays, experts admitted that coral reefs in Myanmar remain largely unexplored, and little is known about the species diversity and health of this ecosystem.

The Forest Department estimated the country's coral reef areas at around 187,000 hectares.

Most coral reefs, both hard and soft, are found in Rakhine and Tanintharyi coastal areas, particularly around the Mergui Archipelago.

The experts said the main culprit in the decline of coral cover is blast fishing and the use of illegal small meshed fishing nets that destroy the coral. There is also the unregulated extraction of coral.

"Thirty percent of coral cover is still untouched and beautiful," said U Zaw Lunn, a marine biologist working with the Freshwater and Marine Conservation Programme of Fauna & Flora International. "But 70pc is damaged and needs to be preserved for eco-tourism," he added.

U Zaw Lunn, an experienced diver who has studied Myanmar coral since 2013, said that coral reefs, mangrove areas and sea grass areas are essential to a healthy marine ecosystem. These are the feeding grounds of different marine species and organisms.

"Corals in some islands are still in good condition, particularly in the Moscos Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary in the Mergui Archipelago, but most of the coral reefs located near communities are badly damaged, U Zaw Lunn said.

Myanmar's coastline stretches 2831 kilometres, from the Nat River, which borders Bangladesh, to the Kawthaung area, which borders Thailand.

On its southern coastline is the Mergui Archipelago, made up of more than 800 islands, which the government plans to propose for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Wildlife Conservation Society of Myanmar underscored the need to conduct more studies of the country's coral reefs to develop an effective conservation and monitoring strategy.

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