Corralling support for reef conservation

Corralling support for reef conservation
Dr Huang Danwei's coral-conservation method takes into account their origins, contributions to the surrounding ecology, and whether they are genetically rare. He says that "transplantation and restoration of corals to regenerate reefs require the prioritisation of individual species".

Coral reefs are among the most endangered ecosystems in the world, and a third of reef-building corals face a high risk of extinction.

For decades, they have been besieged by people's actions - from pollution to overfishing and coastal development - and there is no sign that the onslaught will let up.

With an ever-growing list of endangered species, and as the authorities and conservation groups grapple with limited resources, one Singaporean marine biologist believes it may be time to ask whether some species are worth saving over others.

The National University of Singapore's Dr Huang Danwei, 33, has come up with a new way of classifying corals that he believes could help eco-warriors better allocate their time and money.

Unlike existing classification systems that simply look at the coral species' numbers in the wild to determine their conservation status, his method takes into account their origins, contributions to the surrounding ecology, and whether they are genetically rare.

Take, for example, Diploastrea heliopora, a dome-shaped coral found in large colonies in Singapore's southern waters.

Although it is listed as being only "near-threatened" in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, Dr Huang feels it should be moved further up the conservation priority list.

"The Diploastrea group originated about 100 million years ago, and other than Diploastrea heliopora, there are no longer any more close living relatives in the group worldwide," he says.

It is an important builder of Singapore's reefs, and its loss could lead to coral cover in local waters shrinking further.

The Republic has already lost 65 per cent of its original coral reefs to extensive reclamation work, and has about 9.5 sq km left.

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