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Asia Dive News : Asian businessmen urged to protect Coral Triangle

The planet's most diverse marine region is under serious threat and requires urgent protection from companies that can also boost their profits through conservation efforts, officials and environmentalists said.

The Coral Triangle, a 2.1 million-square-mile (5.4 million-square-kilometer) stretch of ocean straddling six countries, contains 75 percent of the world's coral species, one-third of the Earth's coral reefs, and more than 3,000 species of fish.

Over-exploitation, environmental degradation, a population boom, and climate change are all threatening the area, environmentalists say, and businesses need to map out a strategy to save the Coral Triangle, which provides livelihoods for more than 120 million people.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told a two-day conference of Asia-Pacific business leaders, organized by her government and the environmental group, World Wide Fund For Nature, that companies can profit while protecting the area.

"As saving the world from fossil fuels can be profitable, so also can saving the Coral Triangle be profitable," Arroyo said.

Organizers said representatives from 65 companies from the seafood, communication, tourism, and oil and gas industries attended.

Lida Pet Soede, head of fund's Coral Triangle Program, said the conference aims to involve the private sector in reducing their negative footprint on the environment.

"It is really about companies changing the way they do business in order for them, of course, to have a sustained profitability but also to sustain the livelihood of more than 100 million people," Soede said. "If the private sector becomes part of the sustainability, that impact is potentially much larger than the amount of funding that can be mobilized for more conventional conservation."

About 100 people protested the conference saying it would only benefit big business at the expense of poor fishing communities. Demonstrators from the Peasants Movement, a fishermen's federation, carried a boat and placards that read, "Our seas and corals are not for sale."

Susan Jackson, president of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, said her group's priorities include improving the health of tuna stocks, eliminating illegal fishing, and supporting conservation research.

Vince Perez, CEO of power company Alternergy Partners and conference chairman, said oil companies could make operations ecologically sustainable through efforts to protect marine life around oil platforms.

Six Asia-Pacific nations straddle the Coral Triangle - Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and East Timor.

Source: Taiwan News