Coral reefs have been described as the marine equivalents of rain forests with reference to richness in biodiversity. Yet, recent estimates reveal that nearly 95% of the world's coral reefs have been damaged by overfishing, dynamiting, pollution, poisoning or ship's anchors. Reef check carried out at 300 sites in the Carribean, the Red Sea and the Indo-Pacific Region during the summer of 1997 has indicated that fish and shell fish that were once common on reefs are gradually getting decimated.
1997 has therefore been declared as the Year of the Reef, in order to focus public and political attention on issues relating to the conservation and sustainable management of coral reefs.
It is sad that just at a time when awareness of the crucial importance of biodiversity conservation to the future of global food, health and livelihood security is growing, these fortresses of biological diversity are giving way to a combination of natural and human assaults. 1997 is marked by El Nino events. El Nino, associated with the warming of the water currents in the equatorial eastern Pacific, led to the killing of huge quantities of coral along the coasts of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador during 1982-83. In normal circumstances, the reefs recover from natural destruction within a few decades. But now, natural stresses are compounded by human activity, and the coral treasures are being increasingly degraded with less chance for regeneration.
The Regional Workshop convened by M S Swaminathan Research Foundation in collaboration with the Bay of Bengal Programme of FAO is designed to address these issues and to develop an action plan for saving the remaining coral reefs in the SAARC region. Since its establishment in 1989, M S S R F has given priority attention to the conservation and sustainable use of Coastal Mangrove ecosystems. In many areas, Mangroves, sea grass meadows and coral reefs constitute an integrated ecosystem. The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve represents one such integrated ecosystem. Currently, a detailed action plan is being prepared with assistance from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) for preserving for posterity the biological wealth of the Gulf of Mannar region.
We are indebted to the following organisations for cosponsoring this Workshop and for providing financial support.
· The World Wide Fund for Nature - India
· United Nations Education Scientific & Cultural Organisation
· Department of Science Technology and Environment - Administration of the U T Of Lakshadweep.
· The Department of Ocean Development, Government of India
· The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India
· Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India (SAARC Division)
· Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India
· The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network - South Asia
· The Bay of Bengal Programme of the FAO
· Australian Agency for International Development - Aus Aid
Our special thanks goes to the Bay of Bengal Programme, FAO for collaborating with us for the organisation of the dialogue and arranging for the country paper presentations. We are also grateful to the AUSAID for arranging to bring a monitoring expert from Australia and Dr Jason Rubens of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network for his valuable suggestions.
My sincere thanks go to my colleague Dr (Ms) Vineeta, Hoon for her tireless and dedicated efforts to make this Regional Workshop purposeful and memorable.