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Sri Lanka is left with only 10 percent of its live coral reefs in its oceans, losing 90 percent of it to excessive climate change, inordinate amounts of pollution dumped into the sea, and illegal fishing methods. The alarming report came out last week in local publications, citing Sri Lanka’s state-owned Marine Environment Protection Authority’s observations on the critical state of the island nation’s coral reefs.
Dr Terney Pradeep Kumara, the general manager of the marine authority body, told the local media that Sri Lanka must take urgent steps to save the remaining 10 percent of the coral reefs, and mark them “highly protected areas” along with moving them to the deeper parts of the seas. “Sri Lankans will lose the luxury of viewing colourful corals 10 years from now if urgent steps are not taken to stop their current rate of destruction,” Kumara had reportedly stated at a media workshop on ‘Conservation of Corals and Marine Environment’ last month in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka.In an interview to Xinhua News Agency last week, Kumara further added, “At present what we are observing is that the remaining 10 percent is also facing a lot of difficulty due to high temperature levels…Therefore we expect all government agencies, private agencies and all the environmentalists to get together and help the government declare these reefs as highly protected areas and help transfer the living corals to deep areas to keep them alive.”Studies show that an estimated 2 percent of Sri Lanka’s 1,585-km coastline comprises reefs, in which corals grow to varying extents on old limestone, sandstone and rocky reefs. Additionally, reefs are important for fisheries, coastal tourism, and preventing coastal erosion in the country.However, Kumara states several reasons for this near-extinction situation. One of them is coral mining, which, despite being outlawed in Sri Lanka in 1983, accounts for 90 percent of the lime produced in the country. Yet another reason is marine pollution, especially plastic and polythene waste. “We need an attitudinal change to restrict our plastic and polythene consumption,” he told Daily News.Yet another reason has been attributed to the phenomenon of el niño, a climate change symptom in which the sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean rise to above-normal levels for an extended period of time. “El Nino in layman’s terms is when the sea temperature rises due to various factors, affecting global warming. Due to this phenomenon occurring quite frequently, shallow water coral reefs all around the world are threatened with extinction,” he told The Morning.The dying corals of Sri Lanka were also highlighted by a 2002 research study by Arjan Rajasuriya of National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency, Colombo. According to his study, the degradation of the reefs is attributed to “increasing human activities, particularly over-fishing, coral mining and the effects of sediment and nutrient pollution.” In South Asia, climate change can lead to some devastating impact on rising sea level and potential increase in the frequency and intensity of calamities such as cyclones and storms. The coral reefs are meant to protect our shorelines in coastal areas. “If their health deteriorates further, they may cease to protect shorelines from rising sea levels,” said the study.While efforts to conserve Sri Lanka’s coral reefs are currently on, it remains to be seen whether they can be saved on time.Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.