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Coral reefs at risk of being wiped out in western Indian Ocean

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Some of the world’s most picturesque coral reefs are at risk of being wiped out in the next 50 years, said a report by The Guardian.

The report said: A combination of overfishing and climate change threatens these ecosystems of the western Indian Ocean, putting species, economies and human lives on the line.

A swathe of the world’s coral reefs are at high risk of collapse as climate change and overfishing take their toll.

A team of international scientists found that all the reefs of the western Indian Ocean, an area covering Africa’s east coast as well as islands such as the Maldives, are at risk of ecosystem collapse and irreversible damage in the coming years.

As well as being an ecological catastrophe, a collapse of these reefs would also be a humanitarian disaster for the region, with many residents dependent on the reefs for their food and income.

Dr David Obura, the lead author of the study, says, ‘We’ve known for some time that coral reefs are in decline, but now we know more precisely to what degree, and why. This assessment reaffirms the urgency of the interlinked climate and biodiversity crises addressed by COP26 last month in Glasgow, and COP15 in a few months in Kunming.

‘We need to take decisive action to address both global threats to corals from climate change, and local ones, such as overfishing.’

The study, led by scientists at Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO) was published in Nature Sustainability.

The Indian Ocean is the world’s third largest ocean, spanning from the east coast of Africa to the western shores of Australia.

Due to its position along the equator, it is home to almost half of the world’s coral reefs, primarily around Indonesia, Australia and India.

However, the western half of the ocean still has a significant amount of biodiversity, with countries such as Madagascar, Mozambique and the Seychelles estimated to each have hundreds of species of coral.

These support a wealth of fish, with island nations like the Maldives having over a thousand species found in their waters. Fisheries are incredibly important to the region’s economy to such an extent that if these seas were a country, they would represent the fourth-largest economy in the western Indian Ocean.

The reefs also provide food security for the people that live in the region and provide added benefits as a draw for tourists.

However, the exploitation of the ocean has led the fragile ecosystems found there to the brink of collapse. Fishing from both countries within and outside the region is one of the leading causes, followed by oil extraction and climate change.

To assess the state of these corals, they were assessed using the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Ecosystems. While similar to the red list for animal species which assesses their vulnerability to extinction, it instead asks how close the ecosystem is to collapse.

The answer was that the region’s reefs are perilously close to the edge.

The scientists compiled their report by splitting the reefs across the western Pacific into 11 sub-regions, running north up the east coast of Africa from Kenya to South Africa and east to the island states of the Seychelles and Mauritius.

Each area was assessed individually for its status, allowing the researchers to know the state of around 5% of the world’s reefs.

They found that all sub-regions were at risk of collapse, with reefs around island nations with unique biodiversity, such as the Comoros and the Mascarene Islands, assessed as Critically Endangered.

The same assessment was given for east and south Madagascar, though its north and west coasts were found to be less threatened and judged instead to be Endangered.

The greatest threat to these island reef systems was climate change, which is causing ocean temperatures to rise in the shallow waters in which tropical corals thrive. Rising temperatures put the corals more at risk of bleaching and being unable to recover.

The situation was better on the continental African coast, where the entire stretch was assessed to be Vulnerable. Here, overfishing was found to pose the greatest threat to the reefs.

‘We detected overfishing of top predators on all the reefs from which we had data,’ said co-author Mishal Gudka. ‘These results highlight the need to improve local fisheries management to ensure the health of reef systems and secure sustainable fish stocks, which support jobs for a quarter of a million people in the region.’

The scientists hope that similar assessments will be carried out for the rest of the world’s reefs using the same framework they have, providing a stocktake of the world’s coral. By knowing the state of these ecosystems, the scientists hope that politicians will take the necessary steps to pull coral reefs back from the brink.



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Professionals’ National Front opposes MILCO appointment

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… questions rationale behind Basil’s actions

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Professionals’ National Front (PNF) has questioned the appointment of Renuka Perera as the Chairman of MILCO at the expense of Lasantha Wickremasinghe, a senior member of the outfit as well as an associate of the patriotic civil society outfit ‘Yuthukama’ organisation.

The ruling SLPP accommodated ‘Yuthukama’ leader Gevindu Cumaratunga on its National List whereas Anupa Pasqual also of the civil society grouping successfully contested the Kalutara district.

PNF Secretary and its spokesperson Kapila Renuka Perera told The Island that the government owed an explanation as to why Wickremasinghe who transformed the loss making public sector enterprise in spite of severe difficulties, was removed.

At the time Wickremasinghe received the appointment following the 2019 presidential election, Milco was reported to have suffered losses amounting to Rs. 2,000 million, the PNF spokesperson said. Thanks to Wickremasinghe’s interventions and the tireless efforts of the management team, MILCO earned annual profit of Rs 400 mn regardless of significant increase in the revenue received by milk farmers, Perera said.

Responding to another query, Perera pointed out that no less a person than Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had also served as the Finance Minister till July last year emphasized the pivotal importance in transforming the public sector. Therefore, the recent removal of Wickremasinghe to accommodate Renuka Perera, the Administrative Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was contrary to the government position articulated by the Premier, the PNF official said.

Renuka Perera received his letter of appointment from Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa on the afternoon of January 20 at the Finance Ministry.

Acknowledging that public campaigns undertaken by the PNF since its inception in 2016 helped the then Joint Opposition (JO) now represented in Parliament as the SLPP, PNF Secretary Perera said they were quite horrified by the way the powers that be behaved at a time the country was experiencing severe economic difficulties. Declaring the public had lost faith in the parliamentary system, those who were skeptical of the concerns expressed by professionals should inquire into the sharp increase in the number of families, individuals, particularly the youth seeking to migrate.

Asked whether the PNF questioned the Milco appointment as Lasantha Wickremasinghe happened to be a member of the organization as there had been a number of other controversial appointments since Nov 2019 though they largely remained silent, the official pointed out their opposition to the appointment of Milinda Moragoda as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India. “We raised the issue with the Parliamentary High Post Committee and campaigned vigorously against the former minister given such a crucial diplomatic posting. However, the political leadership thought otherwise,” the PNF spokesperson said.

Amidst the controversy, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a statement defending Moragoda’s appointment.

The PNF official said that the SLPP Administrative Secretary being appointed as the Milco Chairman should be examined against the backdrop of a failed attempt to appoint him as Chairman and the board member of Litro Gas. However, an irate President Gotabaya Rajapaksa rescinded a letter issued by the Secretary to the Finance Ministry S. R. Attygalle in respect of the top Litro appointment. Having done so, President Rajapaksa went to the extent of inspecting the Litro’s main facility at Kerawalapitiya in the company of Theshara Jayasinghe, the incumbent Chairman.

It would be pertinent to mention that Renuka Perera lost his position as Chairman, NHDA (National Housing Development Authority) last July when former lawmaker and convict Duminda Silva moved in soon after he received presidential pardon.

President Rajapaksa brought in Theshara Jayasinghe in July last year following the controversy over Litro successfully blocking government audits even after the Auditor General and the then COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) emphasized the need for state-owned Litro to undergo state audit.

Litro hired Romesh de Silva, PC and Sanjeeva Jayawardena, PC, who is also member of the Monetary Board to represent Litro in the controversial as well as unprecedented case, parliamentary sources told The Island.

Sources said that the government audit resumed after Theshara Jayasinghe replaced Finance Ministry appointee Anil Koswatte, who called Treasury Secretary Attygalle to inquire into allegations directed at him by Theshara Jayasinghe.

The PNF official said that during yahapalana administration the grouping strongly opposed ETCA (Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement) with India as well as SLSFTA (Sri Lanka Singapore Free Trade Agreement) and high profile US MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) project as they were inimical to Sri Lanka’s national interests.

In a statement issued on January 20, the PNF also raised the appointment of Gamini Senarath as the Secretary to the President in spite of accusations as regards his culpability over the disastrous Chinese carbonic fertiliser deal that ended up with cash-strapped Sri Lanka having to pay USD 6.7 mn regardless of the rejection of allegedly contaminated fertilizer stock. The PNF spokesperson pointed out that a close relative of Gamini Senarath managed the Chinese exporter, Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co., Ltd’s local agent Chelina Capital Corporation (CCP).

However, following allegations in this regard, both in and outside Parliament late last year, Senarath issued a statement denying his involvement whatsoever in the transaction while declaring his readiness to cooperate fully in case of an investigation.

The PNF noted that the former Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, too, had allegedly interfered in liquid fertilizer imports from India and a CID investigation was underway following him complaining against the reportage of the developments.

The PNF Secretary said as many others, they, too, were disappointed with the way appointments were made under controversial circumstances at different levels. Asked whether the PNF ever contemplated moving court against unacceptable actions of the government, the spokesperson pointed out that the creation of more than 30 separate ministries in violation of the Constitution was challenged and the case was pending in court.

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Udaya sounds dire warning

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Sri Lankans would have to experience daily power cuts up to four hours a day, if Sri Lanka could not secure a substantial USD loan by March 2022, Minister of Energy, Udaya Gammanpila said yesterday.

Gammanpila said that the country should brace for any eventuality and politicians should lead by making sacrifices. The country was facing a forex crisis and a lot of other sectors would have to suffer if large amounts of fuel had to be imported to generate electricity.

“Monsoons will begin in April. When that happens we may be able to reduce the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity. It will be a struggle until then,” he said.

The only way for the country to have an uninterrupted supply of electricity is to secure a large foreign loan, the Minister said. If the country does not start enforcing daily power cuts now, there will be a crisis in the coming months, he said.

“Is it not better that we implement one and a half hour cuts from now itself rather than moving onto four-hour power cuts later? Should we starve for 28-days after stuffing ourselves from star-class hotels for two days? Or should we rather cook the meals at home?” the Minister asked.

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PHIs threaten to pull out of duties at BIA

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) yesterday threatened to withdraw from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) because a large number of foreigners arriving in the country do not adhere to health guidelines.

PHIs’ Union head Upul Rohana said that six of their members who were working at BIA had tested positive for coronavirus recently.

“A lot of foreigners and Sri Lankans who come from abroad seldom adhere to health guidelines. Often they do not wear masks. Thus, they are putting health workers and other staffers at risk. PHIs are compelled to communicate with almost everyone. This is a dangerous situation and we had repeatedly told health superiors about this,” he said.

Rohana said that PHIs at the BIA operated with minimal facilities. They did not have adequate restrooms and some powerful health sector unions had ensured that PHIs had to work under difficult circumstances.

“They have to stay in cramped spaces. So, if one PHI gets COVID, a lot more would be infected. This is a serious development. We again urge health officials to look into this. If nothing is done, we will leave our stations at the BIA,” he said.

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