Courts fiexw US to protect polar bears

ENVIRONMENTAL groups and the Bush administration yesterday reached a partial court settlement that requires the Department of Interior to designate critical habitat for polar bears by June 30, 2010.

The Department of Interior in May listed the polar bear as being threatened by global warming, but did not designate any critical habitat protection.

The Centre for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace,and the Natural Resources Defence Council filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the Government to do more for the bear’s long-term survival under the Endangered Species Act.

“This agreement will provide an additional layer of protection,” said Kassie Siegel of the Centre for Biological Diversity.

Conservationists yesterday called for better protection for the oceans’ nurseries following the release on Monday of the 2008 Red List, which shows dozens of marine species are threatened with extinction.

International conservation group WWF said the list demonstrated how critical it was to afford greater protection to the oceans’ nurseries, such as the Coral Triangle, which spans Asia and parts of the South Pacific.

The Coral Triangle boasts 75per cent of the world’s coral species and provides spawning grounds for globally valuable species such as reef fish and tuna.

Lida Pet Soede, head of WWF’s Coral Triangle Program, said such areas were as valuable as South America’s Amazon and must be safeguarded.

“Coastal development, destructive fishing and overfishing, unsustainable tourism and climate change are taking a heavy toll and, if left unchecked, will cause the collapse of the world’s most remarkable coral reef ecosystem,” Dr Pet Soede said.

“The implications of loss of habitat and natural resources in the Coral Triangle are enormous in terms of the impact on ocean life globally and on regional livelihoods.

“This nursery of the seas supports global populations of turtles and tuna, while 180 million people depend on its coasts and coastal resources for food security.”

The annual Red List report, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said nearly 40 per cent of the 44,838 animal and plant species covered by the index were considered threatened. About 3000 of them were classified as critically endangered, meaning they face a very high probability of extinction.

Among those considered critically endangered are leatherback and hawksbill turtles, and three other types of turtles listed as endangered or vulnerable. All are found in the Coral Triangle.

Researchers were so concerned about the survival chances of 188 species of mammals that they were described as critically endangered, the highest ranking before extinct.

Among them was the Iberian lynx which, with an estimated population of 84 to 143 adults left in the wild, is among the rarest animals in the world.

“The huge demand for live reef fish amongst wealthy consumers in China and in Chinese communities around the world is a major contributor to the overfishing of these species,” said Geoffrey Muldoon, program leader for WWF’s live reef fish work in the Coral Triangle.

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