The Western Australian, 1st December 2008

The world’s marine reserves may be helping to restore local fish populations, but they are failing to protect fragile coral reefs from the harsh effects of global warming, a conference has heard.

Data collected from 8540 coral reefs in the Indian, Caribbean and Pacific regions from 1987 to 2005 show the rate of coral decline with warmer temperatures is just the same in marine reserves as in highly fished areas.

Associate Professor John Bruno from the University of North Carolina in the United States, who conducted the research, has told the Ecological Society’s annual conference the results should sound a warning bell for reef managers who believe marine reserves are more resistant to climate change.

“The biggest stresses put on coral reefs are ocean warming and disease outbreaks,” Mr Bruno told the conference at the University of Sydney on Monday.

“These stresses are regional and global in scale and local protection in marine reserves is unlikely to help these reefs resist such changes.

“Marine reserves are very important for protecting fish populations, maintaining coral reef food webs and protecting against anchor damage, but they are unlikely to reduce coral losses due to global warming,” he added.

The key to restoring and protecting coral from climate change lay in long-term regional and global strategies to combat its root causes, such as carbon dioxide emissions, Mr Bruno said.

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